August 20, 2010

28RNS: Religious Leaders Blast N.Y. Mosque Opponents

Religious Leaders Blast
N.Y. Mosque Opponents

BY ALFREDO GARCIA                                                                                      ©2010 Religion News Service  

More than 40 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders say they are "deeply troubled" by the opposition to a proposed Islamic community center and mosque located two blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan.

The statement singles out remarks made by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in the divisive debate over the planned Cordoba House project.

"We are deeply troubled by the xenophobia and religious bigotry that has characterized some of the opposition," the statement said.

Gingrich, a Catholic, has "cast this debate in a way that demonizes all Muslims and exploits fear to divide Americans," the statement said, and Palin, an evangelical Christian, is criticized for calling the center a "provocation."

Groups from Clergy Beyond Borders to the Islamic Society of North America to the National Council of Churches said both Gingrich and Palin "would make a more lasting contribution to our nation if they stopped issuing inflammatory statements and instead helped inspire a civil dialogue."

Individual signers said the project offers hope for interreligious understanding, not interfaith conflict.

"This center will reflect not only the best of Islam, but the enduring hope that Christians, Jews, and Muslims can together find common ground," said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the NCC.

Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, said "Cordoba House is exactly the kind of initiative that we need here in New York -- it will serve people of all faith traditions and enrich the city."

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, said "Love thy neighbor" is a fundamental tenet of the Torah, but harder is the admonition to "Love the stranger, for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt."

The statement praised the Cordoba House as an example of efforts that "foster dialogue (and) break down barriers."

"Fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric only undermine treasured values at the heart of diverse faith traditions and our nation's highest ideals," the statement said.