House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that a proposed Islamic center in New York City was a local issue and that she supports an investigation into how the opposition is being funded.
Pelosi told local reporters on Tuesday that the decision over whether to proceed with building an Islamic center, which includes a mosque, near the site of the 9/11 attacks should be left up to the local community.
"I think everyone respects the right of people in our country to express their religious beliefs on their property," she told KCBS radio in San Francisco. "The decision, though, as to how to go forward in New York is up to New York."
The Speaker also questioned what was motivating the political opposition
to the mosque, suspecting that the issue might be being "ginned up" to
help Republican candidates.
"There's no question that there's a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some," she said. "And I join those who have called for looking into how ... this opposition to the mosque [is] being funded.
"How is this being ginned up that
we are here talking about Treasure Island, something we've been working
on for decades, something of great interest to our community, as we go
forward to an election about the future of our country, and two of the
first three questions are about a zoning issue in New York City?" Pelosi
Pelosi is the only high-ranking House Democrat to comment on the mosque at this point, though her approach and tone were markedly different from that taken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who on Monday endorsed moving the proposed mosque elsewhere.
President Obama has backed the right of developers to build the mosque, though the White House has emphasized that doesn't constitute an endorsement of the building.
Pelosi pointedly referred to the controversy as "a zoning issue in New York City," sidestepping the political and religious debate it has sparked since Obama first commented on the matter Friday night.
Republicans have run with the issue since then, pressing Democratic candidates and incumbents to say where they fall on the issue. Reid came out in opposition to the mosque only after Sharron Angle, his Republican challenger this November who's waging a tough bid to unseat him, put the heat on his campaign to say whether he thinks the mosque should be pursued.
Pelosi also said she was unconcerned that the issue might be used politically against Democrats, and said she would look to her members from New York to guide her on the issue.
"I look to my colleagues in New York — some of them have different views on the subject — to work it out," she said.
Update, 1:09 p.m.: Pelosi's office walked back her initial comments a bit on Wednesday afternoon, clarifying that the speaker supports transparency among backers of the Islamic center, as well as among groups opposing the mosque. She said in a statement:
“The freedom of religion is a Constitutional right. Where a place of worship is located is a local decision.
“I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance that ‘We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.’
“For all of those expressing concern about the 9/11 families, we call upon them to join us in support of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act when Congress returns in September.”