WASHINGTON (JTA) — Nancy Pelosi called on the group planning an Islamic center near Ground Zero to reveal its funders but said the mosque’s opponents should do the same.
The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives weighed in Wednesday on the controversy over the proposed mosque in lower Manhattan. She echoed statements from President Obama that freedom of religion is paramount but said that the decision about the planned mosque is a local matter.
"The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right," Pelosi said in a statement. "Where a place of worship is located is a local decision." New York City authorities, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have supported the mosque and community center, planned for a run-down area within three blocks of the World Trade Center felled in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Polling shows most Americans oppose the planned mosque, which also will serve as as an interfaith center. A vocal opposition group has garnered the support of much of the Republican leadership, who have made the mosque an issue in the November midterm elections.
The Anti-Defamation League earlier this month issued a statement decrying mosque opponents who have made bigoted statements but also calling on the center’s organizers to respect the sensibilities of Sept. 11 victims and build it elsewhere. The ADL also called for the organization behind the planned mosque, the Cordoba Initiative, to release a list of donors, apparently heeding allegations by mosque opponents that its leaders in the past have consorted with Islamic radicals.
Pelosi in her statement said she agreed with a statement from the Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom group that includes a number of prominent rabbis on its board, calling for transparency regarding the Islamic center’s funders. Pelosi quoted this sentence from the Interfaith Alliance statement: "We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center."
The entire Alliance statement expressed disappointment in the ADL: "It is unfair to prejudge the impact this center can have on reconciliation before it is even built," it said. "And we must remember that just because someone prays in a mosque, that does not make them any less of a citizen than you or me." It was not clear from her statement whether Pelosi endorsed the entire Alliance statement.
Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said he appreciated Pelosi’s support for transparency but regretted the politicization of the issue.