Van Hollen backs Obama on mosque
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs his party’s House campaign fundraising operation, is backing President Barack Obama on controversial plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.
In comments over the weekend, Obama said Muslims have the same right as other Americans to practice their religion, including building a house of worship and a community center in lower Manhattan, “in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”
“This is America,” Obama said at a White House dinner to mark Ramadan, “and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
Sunday on CNN, State of the Union host Candy Crowley cited a recent poll indicating that the project is opposed by 82 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents and 54 percent of Democrats, and asked Van Hollen if he would have preferred that Obama not raise the subject.
“I think that when it comes to 9/11 and the memory of 9/11, we should all agree that it would be wrong to politicize this issue,” said Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “And I think what the president said [Friday] was as the president of the United States of America, he was simply stating the principle that under our great Constitution, we do not discriminate against people based on their religion.”
“He went on to say later … that the decision as to where to site the mosque, this Muslim place of worship, was up to the people of New York, and Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and inter-faith leaders, Christians, Jews, Muslims have said they think it's appropriate; others have said it's not. That's a question for the people of New York …”
Van Hollen said that when Congress had an opportunity to vote on legislation related to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – a bill that would have extended a healthcare fund for first responders who were sickened – most Republicans voted against it.
“Now, that's a decision to be made by members of Congress,” he said. “We had a vote. With respect to siting the mosque, that's a decision to be made by the people of New York.”
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican appearing opposite Van Hollen, asked why Obama weighed in on the mosque project.
“If Chris is saying this is a New York issue, then why did the president engage in it?” he asked.
“Look, you look at the poll,” McCarthy said. “There is a sensitivity to that area. Yes, we have the freedom. Build a mosque; build more than one mosque, but don't build it there. There are other places to build them. And I think that's really what America is saying.”