WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama drew harsh criticism over the weekend for voicing his support of a Muslim group's right to build a controversial community center near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
While liberals applauded Obama's sentiments, conservatives billed the project as insensitive, and the episode is stirring speculation over whether the president's stance might hurt Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections.
Opponents have for weeks voiced their opposition to the building, which is expected to house a mosque, just blocks from Ground Zero, a site that many Americans consider sacred.
"As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," said the President on Friday at White House dinner in celebration of Ramadan.
"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, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable," he said.
Republican leaders criticized the president's remarks, prompting speculation that the issue could provide fodder for Republicans to take over seats in Congress in the November elections.
And with Democrats expected to lose seats -- some analysts even predict they will lose control of the House -- they may have to choose whether they are with the president on the issue or not.
Despite the controversy, the mosque is no make-or-break election issue, as voters are primarily concerned about the economy in the worst recession since the 1930s, said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.