cleared the final hurdle for approval when the landmarks commission unanimously denied granting landmark status to the building where the project will be constructed. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) spoke at Governor's Island, defending the project by appealing to the American values of religious freedom, the separation of church and state, and tolerance. The following are excerpts from the speech:
...Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question - should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.
The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves - and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans - if we said 'no' to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values - and play into our enemies' hands - if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists - and we should not stand for that.
For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime - as important a test - and it is critically important that we get it right.
...The attack was an act of war - and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights - and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.
Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation - and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam. Muslims are as much a part of our City and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshiping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right.