Republican Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInversion rule: latest example of government overreach Supreme Court wrestles with corruption law IRS: Annual unpaid tax liability was 8B MORE (Utah) this week became one of the most prominent members of his party to voice his support for the Lower Manhattan mosque.
In a local television interview over the weekend, Hatch said developers have the right to build the proposed Park51 Islamic center, which includes a mosque, two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Republicans and Democrats have used the mosque as a political cudgel against one another, even though the debate has divided powerful members of both parties.
President Obama has backed the rights of the mosque developers to build the facility, citing religious freedom. But he later appeared to back away from that stance, saying that he was not commenting on the "wisdom" of building on that particular site.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidMellman: Give positive a chance Koch network super-PAC launches ad buys in Wisconsin, Nevada Trump: 'I'd have to think about' Cruz for Supreme Court MORE (D-Nev.) has said that constructing the mosque there would be insensitive, aligning himself with most Republicans.
Hatch broke away from the bulk of his party, comparing the issue to the construction of a Mormon temple in Boston earlier this decade.
The Utah senator acknowledged that public opinion is against building the Islamic center, but he said that should not play a role in the final decision.
"That should not make the difference if they decide to do it," he said, adding that, "I'd be the first" to defend its construction.