New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg disagrees with a Florida pastor's impending Koran-burning rally on the coming 9th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, calling the plan "boneheaded and wrong."
Even as he defended the pastor's right to carry out his plan, Bloomberg told "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts that he didn't believe the pastor should do it.
Bloomberg made the comments to Roberts on a recent tour of the Ground Zero site, which is being prepared to house a memorial and underground museum to honor the more than 3,000 people who were killed when terrorists flew two jetliners into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
His reaction echoed similar sentiments expressed by interfaith leaders, politicians, and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., has cited the terror attack as the reason for his planned bonfire of Korans Saturday.
A proposed Islamic community center and mosque at Ground Zero in New York seems to have sharply polarized the public: critics say such a facility has no place at Ground Zero, while supporters say the nation's Constitution guarantees each individual the freedom to practice his or her religion.
Bloomberg told Roberts that the mosque sends a message, adding that most of the 9/11 victims' family members with whom he has talked have said builders should have the right to erect the community center and mosque.
"You can't let Al Qaeda win. Just can't do that. We have to stand up. And does a mosque send a message? I don't want to get involved in saying yes or no, because I am representing the government. But there are an awful lot of people that think it does," he said.
Much of the divisive rhetoric was coming from the political arena, and he also had strong opinions about that.
"It's a disgrace," Bloomberg said. "This is not a campaign issue."
A rising tide of Islamophobia across the nation has given way to reports of violence against Muslims – including an attack on a New York City cab driver who is Muslim – and a suspicious fire at a mosque in Tennessee.
Saturday, the planned date of Jones' Koran-burning rally at his church also could be the day that Eid, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is celebrated, according to when the date falls on the lunar calendar.
Despite his unequivocal disagreement with Jones' plans, Bloomberg said he would "fight and make whatever sacrifices are necessary" to protect the pastor's right to carry out his actions.
"I think we should respect each others' religions. I think what he's doing is putting our troops in more danger around the world, and Americans in more danger, and America in more danger," Bloomberg said. "But nevertheless, either you believe in the First Amendment or you don't. And he has a right to do it. And we're fighting just as hard for his right, even when I think it is boneheaded and wrong."
"If he doesn't have the freedom to do that, then I'm not going to have the freedom to say what I want to say, pray to whomever I want to pray to. Wherever and whenever," Bloomberg noted.