The issue of the Islamic center, which for some time was referred to inaccurately as the "Ground Zero mosque," has become more than just a New York issue. People across the country and the world are weighing in.
While some opponents of the Islamic community center and mosque have acknowledged the builders' right to build, they have said that actually going ahead with the project would demonstrate a lack of sensitivity for the victims' families and loved ones.
"If the builders want to build, they have the right to do it," Bloomberg said. "If people want to suggest that they don't build it or build it (elsewhere), they have a right to say that. What is clear is the government should never get involved in restricting what you can say, which includes who you can pray to or where you can pray. And that's the issue. This is a First Amendment issue."
People have pressed him further for an opinion.
His answer to them is "I'm the government. And I should not express my own views as to whether it should be or should not be built here. I've said the more cultural institutions and the more religious institutions that are built around Ground Zero, I think, the better we all are."
Some people have pointed out that churches may not be constructed in some Middle Eastern countries and have used that as the potential rationale for blocking construction of a mosque in this country.
To that, Bloomberg said, "That's the difference between those countries and America."
Bloomberg related a story of being interrupted as he and his girlfriend were out for a hamburger by a man who wanted to talk about the mosque.
"And I'm thinking, 'Oh, this is going to be -- my hamburger's going to get cold before I finish this conversation.' And he said, 'I just got back from two tours of duty overseas. Some of my best friends didn't come back. What are these people thinking about?' he asked. He said, 'You get out there and to explain to them. Keep explaining to them. That's why we went overseas to fight and some of us didn't come back. It's the fact that we have the right to do this, not whether we should or we shouldn't, that we have the right. "
Bloomberg is no stranger to discrimination.
As a child growing up in Massachusetts, his father couldn't purchase a home outright because the family was Jewish.
"The developer … didn't want to sell. I think he said his sister would never talk to him again if he sold … the house, which is the one we bought, to a Jew …," he said. "So they sold it to my father's Irish lawyer, who resold it to my father."
Bloomberg pointed out that it would be hard to find anyone in the U.S. whose ancestors hadn't faced discrimination.
"The pilgrims came here to avoid religious persecution in England. African-Americans came here as slaves. Jews came here and were discriminated against. The Irish – people don't remember – the 'No Irish need apply' signs that were all over. Italians. You know, all of the stereotypes kept getting brought up. Catholics. Remember John F. Kennedy? The Pope was going to run America."
America got beyond the rhetoric then, and could rise above it again, he said.