Leaders of a dozen Muslim groups are calling on Gov. Tim Pawlenty to retract his statement of opposition to construction of a mosque two blocks from New York’s Ground Zero. Pawlenty called the planned project “inappropriate” in a Real Clear Politics interview published Friday, earning a rebuke from Rep. Keith Ellison.
“I’m strongly opposed to the idea of putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero – I think it’s inappropriate,” Pawlenty said. “I believe that 3,000 of our fellow innocent citizens were killed in that area, and some ways from a patriotic standpoint, it’s hallowed ground, it’s sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn’t have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way.”
“I know he wants to be president really bad,” 5th Congressional District Rep. Ellison told the Star Tribune Friday, “and I know he’s trying to appeal to the most extreme elements of his party to do that, but I hope he doesn’t want to be president so bad that he’s willing to dishonor the First Amendment and our heritage of religious tolerance.”
“It’s very unseemly that a Midwestern politician would try to divide New Yorkers and Americans on the basis of religion,” he added.
On Monday, leaders from a dozen Minnesota Muslim groups sent a letter to Pawlenty urging him to retract his statement. The leaders also invited Pawlenty to a meeting with members of Minnesota’s Muslim community to discuss the issue and urged him to “seek out opportunities in the upcoming Islamic holy month of Ramadan to educate himself on Islam and Muslims and build relationships with constituents,” according to a release from the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Our governor has engaged in collective guilt by saying that all Muslim activities and images anywhere near Ground Zero are degrading and disrespectful,” CAIR-MN’s Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam said in a prepared statement. “All Americans, including Muslims, should seek to help heal our society and avoid statements that create division or distrust.”
Somali Action Alliance head Hashi Shafi said, “The underlying issue here is freedom of religion. For Governor Pawlenty to deny Muslims their right to build a cultural or religious center is both unpatriotic and unconstitutional.”