More Americans disapprove of President Obama's remarks about the right to build a mosque near the Ground Zero site than approve, a new survey reveals.
Thirty-two percent disapprove strongly of Obama's comments, while another five percent disapprove but not strongly, according to a Gallup Poll released Wednesday. By comparison, only a combined 20 percent approve strongly or not strongly of the president's remarks.
More Americans, however, said they do not know enough about the remarks to formulate an opinion (41 percent).
The Gallup poll was conducted on Tuesday using telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,009 adults.
Last Friday, President Obama said that Muslims had a right to build a proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. During a White House dinner in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Obama declared that Muslims have the same right as everyone else in the country to build a house of worship on private property.
"This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable," Obama declared.
A day later, Obama clarified that his comments only addressed the legality of building a mosque, and not the wisdom of doing so.
Opponents of the proposed mosque were quick to criticize the president's statements as being insensitive to the sentiments of the 9/11 victims' families.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the 2001 terrorist attacks and family members of the victims say a mosque so near the site of the attacks is offensive to those who died because the terrorists said Islam inspired their action.
But Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter under President George W. Bush, defended Obama's remarks. As president, Obama "has duties to the Constitution and to the citizens he serves – including millions of Muslim citizens," Gerson wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
"His primary concern is not the sifting of sensitivities but the protection of the American people and the vindication of their rights," the political pundit said.
"By this standard, Obama had no choice but the general path he took. No president, of any party or ideology, could tell millions of Americans that their sacred building desecrates American holy ground."
In addition to President Obama, New York Gov. David Paterson also recently waded into the controversy by offering to discuss with the developers of the proposed project, called Park51, a possible compromise. Paterson said he wants to discuss whether the site for the Islamic cultural center can be moved somewhere else yet still serve the Lower Manhattan area.
"That would be a noble gesture to those who live in the area who suffered after the attack on this country, and at the same time would probably in many ways change a lot of people's minds about Islam, which is really a peaceful religion practiced by peace-loving people," said Paterson on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday.
SoHo Properties, the developer of Park51, appears interested in discussing the option with Paterson. Last week, the head of SoHo Properties tweeted that he was open to the suggestion and wanted to hear more about it.
"We're hoping to get together, but only if they want to get together," Paterson said. "There's no attempt at pressure or coercion here. I'd just like to talk about what might be a magic moment in our history."