Faith Groups Differ Over Mosque Near Ground Zero

A new public poll reveals that faith communities are split over the best way to resolve the disagreements regarding the Islamic center planned near Ground Zero in New York.

The Gallup poll, released Monday, shows that nearly half of all Protestants prefer the center change location. Over a quarter of Protestants say the mosque should be turned into an interfaith center.

The poll's results are a reflection of many Americans' belief that the planned Islamic center represents a religion in whose name the 9/11 terrorist acts were committed.

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Dr. Richard Land, a Southern Baptist and founder of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, believes the proposed center is too close to the 9/11 site for comfort.

He bases his belief on the nature of the 9/11 attacks. "It still remains a fact that the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attack were Muslims and proclaimed they were doing what they were doing in the name of Islam," Land wrote in a Washington Post commentary.

However, like many Christians, Land also understands that radical Muslim beliefs led the attacks and that Muslims have a right to worship according to their beliefs.

"As Baptists, we believe in religious freedom, that is the right of people to the free exercise of their faith without interference from government authorities," remarked Land, a member of the U.S. Muslim Engagement Project which works to connect with the global Islamic community.

According to the Gallup poll, Mormons and Roman Catholics were most likely to say the Islamic center should find another location, with more than 6 in 10 saying so. Meanwhile, one third of atheists and agnostics agree that the center should be moved and about a quarter of other non-Christian groups say the same.

Notably, Muslims were most likely among the faith groups to say the center should be changed to an interfaith institution, with 30 percent saying so.

Julie Menin, the chairwoman of the New York City Community Board, had made such a proposal in an August New York Daily News commentary, where she wrote, "The mosque and community center near Ground Zero should not be enshrined as a battle ground of discord, but rather be transformed into an interfaith center for reconciliation and peace-containing nondenominational houses of worship to be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews."

Interfaith Alliance President the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy believes the Islamic center is already a tribute to interfaith relations without any of the proposed changes.

"This is a project that shows the American Muslim community's commitment to democratic values, interfaith dialogue and civic engagement and is, in many ways, a slap in the face to the extremists who sought to destroy those values with the September 11 attacks," said Gaddy in a statement.

Approximately 45 percent of U.S. Muslims, other non-Christians (apart from Muslims and Jews) and atheists/agnostics say the center should move forward with the proposed location, despite opposition voices, the Gallup poll reveals. Only 18 percent of Protestants and 15 percent of Catholics agree.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who founded the Cordoba Initiative, a Muslim outreach group, is spearheading the $100 million project, called Park51, that will place a cultural center and mosque two blocks away from the spot were 9/11 bombers took down the twin towers killing nearly 3,000 Americans. The proposed project is a 13-story community center that includes a gym, swimming pool, art center and a mosque.

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