ABC News' Ariane DeVogue reports:
Retired Justice John Paul Stevens said in a speech on Thursday that he believes the Muslims seeking to build a religious center near the site of the World Trade Center should "enjoy the freedom to build their places of worship wherever permitted by local zoning laws."
"Today I plan to say a few words about memorials, mosques, and monuments," he said at the beginning of the speech, according to a transcript. Stevens recounted how he spent two years during WWII working as an intelligence officer in Pearl Harbor. Years later he returned to Hawaii and was taken to see the USS Arizona memorial where he was surprised to see Japanese tourists also visiting the site.
Stevens explained that at first he didn't think the Japanese should be there. He thought, "Those people don't really belong here. We won the war, they lost it. We shouldn't allow them to celebrate their attack on Pearl Harbor even if it was one of their greatest victories." He later realized that he was "drawing inferences about every member" of the group of tourists that didn't necessarily apply to "any single one of them."
Stevens compares his experience with the current controversy surrounding the building of a religious center near the site of the fallen towers.
"The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago; the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11. Indeed, terrorists like those who killed over 3,000 Americans — including Catholics, Jews, Protestants, atheists and some of the 600,000 Muslims who live in New York — have also killed many more Muslims who disagree with their radical views in other parts of the world. Many of the Muslims who pray in New York mosques may well have come to America to escape the intolerance of radicals like those who dominate the Taliban."
Stevens says there is no place for discrimination.
"Descendants of pilgrims who came to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecutions — as well as those who thereafter joined the American political experiment that those people of faith helped launch — should understand why American Muslims should enjoy the freedom to build their places of worship wherever permitted by local zoning laws."