With all the attention we’ve given to politicians who have attacked the Muslim community center set to be built near Ground Zero in New York, let’s take a different look at the story: A list of the Democratic politicians who have stood up in support of it.
Opposition to the project has been brewing for weeks, and the issue came to a head a week and a half ago, when President Obama voiced his support for the right of organizers to build it.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: Hundreds Protest Islamic Center In Downtown Manhattan]
Since, some Dems have come out and said that the project should be moved — most notably Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who nevertheless affirmed the right of Muslims to build it. So let’s look at the other side of the equation: Dems who have spoken out on the project’s behalf, both before and after Obama’s remarks.
This isn’t a totally complete list, and for our purposes, we are counting both solid affirmations of the project itself, plus those politicians who have attacked the project’s opponents in the name of upholding the constitutional right to free exercise of religion.
After Obama’s Statement
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) has come out in support of the center — after Majority Leader Reid stated last week that it should be built somewhere else. “The mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has given his assent to this center and I support his decision,” Durbin said Sunday. “The politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin who try to divide America with fear and hate over this issue betray the diversity which makes our nation great and the Constitution which they profess to honor.”
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), the Democratic nominee for Senate and a retired Navy Vice Admiral, stated his support last week. “As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership,” Sestak said. “All that said, I strongly believe in the Constitutional right of religious freedom and in the separation of church and state applied equally to everyone. Those are rights that I defended for 31 years in that fine U.S. Navy. This is an issue for New York to resolve as long as it respects those constitutional rights. Let’s also step back and say, let’s stop paying politics.”
Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic nominee for President Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois, has also come out in support: “Are we going to talk about tolerance, talk about freedom of religion or are we actually going to practice it?”
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) called the attacks against the center “one of the most disgraceful things that I’ve heard.” As a former New York City resident, Franken explained to an Illinois crowd (and any opponents out there) just what the reality of this center would be: “I don’t know how many of you have been to New York, but if a building is two blocks away from anything, you can’t see it.” Franken got in a joke, as well: “It’s a community center. They’re going to have a gym. They’re going to have point guards. Muslim point guards.”
Franken also told his audience: “I lost a friend in 9-11 and I understand the feelings of the families.”
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), who is in the middle of a tough re-election fight, proclaimed that the center’s opponents are guilty of “gutter politics,” and that the opposition to it is “one of the worst things I’ve ever seen done in politics.”
“In the end I believe in freedom of religion,” said Feingold. “If somebody owns property and it’s within the zoning rules, if they want to build a house of worship that is a fundamental right. And I would make the point I am for freedom on this point, and freedom of religion is fundamental.”
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has offered his support, saying that he’s “kind of proud that they’re sticking to their guns and saying this is where they would want to worship.” Hmm, maybe “sticking to their guns” wasn’t the right word choice — but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-NV) has come out strongly against the center’s opponents. “Given the fact that my family and people in my religion have suffered so much from religious persecution, I cannot see how I can speak out against other minority religions in this country and their free exercise of their own religion,” said Berkley, who is Jewish.
“Do I feel sensitivity for those families that suffered horrible losses and unspeakable crimes (in the Sept. 11 attack)? Of course,” Berkley added. “Is this the best location on the planet for this mosque? Probably not. But doesn’t the Constitution permit the free exercise of religious beliefs? How many synagogues have been burned to the ground with Jews in them because of religious intolerance?” (Thanks to TPM reader LE.)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) wrote a guest column for The Oregonian, stating his support.
“I appreciate the depth of emotions at play, but respectfully suggest that the presence of a mosque is only inappropriate near ground zero if we unfairly associate Muslim Americans with the atrocities of the foreign al-Qaida terrorists who attacked our nation,” wrote Merkley. “Such an association is a profound error. Muslim Americans are our fellow citizens, not our enemies. Muslim Americans were among the victims who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. Muslim American first responders risked their lives to save their fellow citizens that day. Many of our Muslim neighbors, including thousands of Oregon citizens, serve our country in war zones abroad and our communities at home with dedication and distinction.” (Thanks to TPM reader DP.)
Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), who is Muslim, has voiced his support: “Are we a country of laws and principles? Or are we a country who will be moved by the winds of emotion each and every time there are issues that come up to divert us from the true meaning and intent of the founding fathers?” (Thanks to TPM reader LM.)
Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) has also strongly stated her support for the right to build it.
“While I understand that emotions are running strong in regard to the Muslim community center in New York City, it’s neither the government’s nor an elected official’s place to tell any religious group where they can or cannot practice their faith,” Dahlkemper said. “Our Founding Fathers came to America to escape religious persecution.
“I believe very strongly in the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, and I will not throw our Constitution or core values aside simply because it is an election year.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has chimed in: “It may be popular to jump on this, but it should never be popular to have our First Amendment freedom of religion apply to some religions and not others. That’s not the American way.”
Before Obama’s Statement
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, stated strongly that the Democratic Party should stand for freedom of religion.
“There’s also a more important principle at work here: And that is that the transnational terrorists who committed this outrageous act on 9/11, they are arguing that America is at war with Islam,” said Ellison. “The way to undermine and counteract that false narrative is to stand on our sacredly held beliefs of religious liberty. That’s how we demonstrate that, no, America is a country…for everyone where people worship as they see fit. The problem with stopping this Islamic center is that it implies that the Muslim world is responsible for it, when it was al Qaeda that was responsible.”
The office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) came out with a statement three weeks ago: “The community board, which includes many people who lived through the 9/11 attacks, overwhelmingly voted to approve this proposal and Senator Gillibrand supports the board’s decision.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) also said: “While I understand some of the strong emotions this proposal has created, I believe that preventing the project from being built would run counter to our proud constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to assemble. I stand with many in our community, including Mayor Bloomberg and the local community board, in supporting the rights of the project’s planners to build in lower Manhattan, which I believe will signal to the world that the terrorists will never be able to destroy the American traditions of openness and tolerance.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), whose district includes Ground Zero, also said three weeks ago: “As an elected official who believes strongly in the separation of church and state, I contend that the government has no business deciding whether there should or should not be a Muslim house of worship near Ground Zero. And, as a representative of New Yorkers of all faiths and cultures, I find the singling out of Muslim-Americans — because of their faith — for animus and hate to be shameful and divisive. We should instead work toward building tolerance and understanding.”
Gov. Charlie Crist (I-FL), the ex-Republican who is widely believed to be a potential vote for Democrats if he wins his Senate race, voiced his support the day after Obama’s remarks. “We are a country in my view that stands for freedom of religion. You know, respect for others,” Crist told CNN. “I know there are sensitivities and I understand that, but I think Mayor Bloomberg is right and I think the President is right.”
(This post has been added to since its original publication.)