President Obama expanded on his remarks about the mosque planned near Ground Zero during his trip to Florida Saturday.
Obama said that his statement on Friday didn't express support for the “wisdom” of building a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Manhattan, but rather the right the group has to build it.
"My intention was simply to let people know what
I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in
accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion," Obama said.
“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding,” Obama told reporters Saturday after delivering remarks in Panama City Beach, Fla. “That's what our country is about."
Obama said Friday that Muslims shouldn’t be forbidden from building a mosque on account of where it’s located.
"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the
same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this
country,” he said at a dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month. “And
that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community
center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local
laws and ordinances. This is America."
The speech prompted swift condemnation from Republicans. "President Obama is wrong. It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero,” Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said in a statement.
On Saturday, Obama admitted it was a “difficult” issue, but said his stand was consistent with American values.
“I think it's very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about,” he said, according to the pool report.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said the president wasn’t backing off his earlier remarks.
"The World Trade Center site is hallowed ground, where 3,000 American Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims were the victims of a cold-blooded massacre. We are still at war with the small band of terrorists who planned and executed that attack,” he told reporters. “But that does not give government the right to deny law-abiding Americans of one faith the same rights you would accord anyone else."
—This story was updated at 8 p.m.