Developers should "put the brakes" on a planned mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Tuesday.
Lieberman, an independent senator who caucuses with Democrats, endorsed a pause on the building of an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, joining some Republican lawmakers and conservative activists who have railed against the project.
Many top Republicans have condemned the project since plans to construct a Muslim community center several blocks away from the site of the former World Trade Center were approved by a community board in late May. Outside groups of conservative activists, and even the Anti-Defamation League, have criticized the Islamic center as disrespectful to victims of the attacks, since the al Qaeda-affiliated attackers were Muslims. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a strong supporter of the center, has said "if we are so afraid of something like this, what does that say about us?"
A New York City agency denied an existing property "landmark" status as opponents of the Islamic center had asked, clearing the way for the new center's construction.
Most Democrats have been quiet on the issue, while some others have condemned Republicans for their opposition to the project.
Lieberman, who is an Orthodox Jew, noted that while places of worship should enjoy a special status in the U.S., outreach to victims' families "obviously hasn't worked."
"If the people building this large Islamic center are just looking to build a large facility — a house of worship and center — in New York, why so close to 9/11, with all the sensitivity associated with that?" he asked.
Some of the potential 2012 Republican candidates for president have been among the project's most strident critics. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has called the center an "unnecessary provocation" that "stabs hearts." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) has also called the plan a "desecration" of the site of the attacks. Other 2012 contenders, like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), have not spoken out on it.
The Connecticut senator, who's often been hawkish on national-security issues, has said the project should be put on hold until the developers of the project can be more fully vetted.
"I've also read some things about some of the people involved that make me wonder about their motivations. So I don't know enough to reach a conclusion, but I know enough to say that this thing is only going to create more division in our society, and somebody ought to put the brakes on it," he said. "Give these people a chance to come out and explain who they are, where their money's coming from."
Updated 12:07 p.m.