The 9th anniversary of the September 11 attacks is coming up next month – and Ground Zero is once again a center of religious controversy. The current flashpoint is a planned $100 million Islamic cultural center and mosque, scheduled to be built by private investors two blocks from the World Trade Center site. Last week, President Obama weighed in, saying Muslims have the right to build the religious center; many Republicans have sharply criticized the plans.
Amidst the controversy New York’s Governor David Paterson, has said moving the proposed 'Park 51 Center' to a location away from Ground Zero would be “magic moment” for him.
KATHERINE LANPHER: Gov. Paterson why are you appealing to the backers of the Islamic cultural center and Mosque to move to a different location?
GOV. PATERSON: Well there are a number of ways that we might be able to suggest to the developers that would quell this situation which is getting more and more out of hand everyday. And so my suggestion was that one of those solutions might be to find an area that’s in Lower Manhattan that serves the catchment area of the Muslim community that’s growing that they would like to serve. And at the same time would not be so close to Ground Zero that it seems to offend many people that live there and many people that don’t.
KL: How possible do you think a compromise is at this point? Is it going to be 4, 6, 8 blocks?
GOV. PATERSON: I don’t think I actually know the answer to that question and what we would have to do is to dialogue on that kind of a point which would be a lot better than the points we’ve been talking about over the last several weeks.
KL: Now some of the points we have been talking about and I can’t help but think about Mayor Mike Bloomberg who has been saying that this is a First Amendment right for people be able to have a community center where they can worship. I’d like your reaction to that.
GOV. PATERSON: He’s absolutely right- there’s no federal, state, or local law nor any clause of the constitution that in any way would allow for there to be any hindrance. This is a private property they own that property and they have a clear right to put the mosque wherever they want. That’s why my appeal comes to them to have a dialogue about how we might be able to lessen the strain on the people who live in that area. And let’s remember these are the victims of the attack on the country on Sept 11th, service delays that lasted years, transportation problems arising from added security, a trial that was going to be placed in that area where the resolution has never been reached as to whether or not the trial of the terrorist would happen in that situation. And people who lived and worked in the area for years, promised that they were safe when we later found out that there were toxins in the air, many of them got sick and many of them died, and no federal legislation to provide for help to the 9/11 workers.
KL: I want to get back to those points in a moment, but let me first let me get to the constitutional issue which has been raised by the Daily News and others. What about the fact that maybe it’s not constitutional for the state to give land to any group that is religious in nature. How is this not muddying the line between church and state?
GOV. PATERSON: Because no one ever talked about giving them land. This is when outlets create a straw man and then knock it down. Those transactions have to be made at arms length but they wouldn’t necessarily be difficult at all because they own the land that exists now. These types of situations are done all the time as a matter of fact there is an attempt to relocate a Greek orthodox church that was destroyed during 9/11. So a little research would clear up any misgivings about the state getting involved in that type of activity- it happens all the time.
KL: Now one of the candidates for governor has demanded that the state of NY use its power of eminent domain- take over the sight and just block construction of the center. As governor do you think there’s a case to be made there?
GOV. PATERSON: That is the most shocking lack of appreciation for our Constitution. Maybe we could do that if we were in Bosnia but this is the USA. Eminent domain is a process of condemning land. You don’t condemn land because you don’t like the way people are using it. People have a right to express their religious freedoms under the first amendment pretty much any way they want when it’s on their property. But there are those that would use this opportunity to fund raise or politic or just get a lot of attention. The reality is that I think those who are reasonable who feel that the Mosque should stay where it is and those who would like to see it moved understand that they do have a right to be there.
KL: Governor do you have a meeting set up? Is it in your appointment book to meet with the developers of the community center and mosque?
GOV. PATERSON: There was one last Monday and that had to be postponed. There is not one currently and there will only be a meeting if the people from the mosque agree to meet with us we are not pressuring them or coercing them we are just asking them based on what happened on 911 that we get an opportunity to dialogue and have the kind of understand that they say will exist when the mosque is built but we could reach that understanding before the first brick is laid.