WASHINGTON, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday voiced support for a plan to build a mosque near the former World Trade Center site in New York.
"Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan," Obama said at a White House Iftar meal celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
While recognizing "the emotions that this issue engenders," and vowing "never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11," Obama said "this is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."
This is the first time the White House took a stand in the issue.
The plan to build an Islamic Cultural Center and a mosque blocks away from the site where two jetliners hijacked by extremists crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers, killing over 3,000, in Sept. 11, 2001, has sparked controversy in New York and elsewhere.
New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the plan to turn the lower Manhattan building into a mosque and an interfaith venue.