Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has added his name to the growing list of high-profile conservatives to oppose the opening of a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center.
Kyl's rank makes him the most prominent GOP senator to challenge the project — a multi-story Islamic cultural center — so far. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have all called it "insensitive" to the families of 9/11 victims, while Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has said that developers should "put the brakes" on construction.
Plans to build the center, sponsored by the Cordoba Initiative, were approved by a community board in late May.
In an editorial published Monday by the Yuma Sun, Kyl said that while the project is ultimately a matter for New York City, local officials must remember that "our country is still at war with radical Islamists and that victims of the 9/11 attacks have a stake in their decision too."
"The uneasiness that many Americans feel is understandable," Kyl wrote. "Ground Zero,
of course, is not just a plot of land awaiting development. Thousands
of innocent people lost their lives at the hands of Islamist terrorists
there. ... Decisions
about developing the area require special consideration and sensitivity
to those who lost loved ones in the September 11 terrorist attacks."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declined to comment on the project, which gained national attention after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) each condemned the project.
The Anti-Defamation League, known as the country's leading Jewish civil rights group, also released a statement in opposition on July 30.
Quoting Gingrich's statement, Kyl wrote that "'for radical Islamists, the mosque would become an icon of triumph, encouraging them in their challenge to our civilization.' We are still at war with adherents of radical Islam, and it would be foolish, if not destructive, to risk giving militant Islamists a victory to exploit."
While New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) have not commented on the issue, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has said that the issue is "rightly a matter for New York City and the local community to decide."
The leading figure to defend the project has been New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said in a speech last Tuesday that the proposed building site is "private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right."
"Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshiping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right."
The city's Landmark Preservation Commission has approved the demolition of the building to be replaced by the center.
"I’ve carefully considered also the other architectural, social, historical and cultural reasons that have been put forth in favor of designation [of the current building as a historic site] and ultimately find them unpersuasive in terms of this decision," commission chairman Robert Tierney said Aug. 3.
A recent poll showed that 61 percent of New Yorkers oppose the project.