Rep. Peter King: President Obama Missed ‘A Teachable Moment’ On Ground Zero Mosque

By Kate McCarthy

Aug 16, 2010 8:30am

President Obama missed "an opportunity to create a teachable moment" when he weighed in on the controversy over whether to build the Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero, Rep. Peter King told me on "GMA."

"The Muslim community has an absolute right to construct this mosque, they should also take into account the feelings of those who agree and have meetings, set up meetings and try to find another location. That would do more to bring about interfaith harmony than anything," King, a New York Republican, said.

Friday night Obama seemed to indicate his support for building the mosque, but the following day the president tried to clarify his remarks by saying he was not commenting "on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there."  The White House then released a statement saying the president was "not backing off in any way from the comments he made" on Friday.

Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, took issue with King’s comments, arguing that if the building of the mosque does not go forward it would be a "setback for liberty."

"If a group of religious adherence can be stopped from building a house of worship, then that will be a suffering blow for religious liberty in our country. It will be a setback for the idea that you can worship as you see fit in America," Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, said. "Now that is a deeply rooted and important American value. And I don’t think we should compromise on it."

I asked Ellison if the president’s statements and subsequent clarification could become a problem for Democrats this November, as Sen. John Cornyn has suggested. Ellison said “absolutely not.”

“The truth is that we are a party of principle, we believe in the idea of religious liberty,” Ellison said.

“America is a country that is for everyone where people worship as they see fit,” Ellison told me. "The problem with stopping this Islamic center is that it implies that the Muslim world is responsible for [September 11] when Al Qaeda is responsible."

Watch my interview with Congressmen King and Ellison here and then weigh in below and tell me who you think is right.

George Stephanopoulos

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