I want to thank the Landmarks Preservation Commission for making the right decision on the merits of this application. The Commission was correct to deny landmark status for the old Burlington Coat Factory. Any attempt to derail this development because of its future uses would at its core be un-American and a violation of all of our first amendment rights.
Now that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has taken its action, work can begin to create a mosque and cultural center that is as great as New York City. The leaders of this organization are free to act just like anyone else in America, just like anyone else who wishes to open a house of worship and a place for cultural and religious education and expression. Whether you’re in favor of this center or not, we must remember that one of the most important founding principles of our great nation is freedom of religion and freedom of religious expression.
That’s exactly what the Statue of Liberty means to all of us in this country. All four of my grandparents came here from Ireland. They entered the New York harbor – one after having survived the great crash of the Titanic – and they saw the Statue of Liberty waiting for them. All four of them left a country where their future was in question because they were Catholic. All four of them and many of their siblings came here to America, and to New York specifically, because they knew it was a place where they would be free to be Catholic and a place where they would not have economic barriers put up because of their religion.
The debate around this cultural center has been difficult and divisive. It has shown us that many of the wounds of 9/11 still exist. But the true way to honor the Americans who died fighting for our country’s founding principles is to respond to the proposal of this mosque and cultural center with support, with a deepened commitment to religious freedom, and with a deepened commitment to New York City being the freest, most tolerant, and most accepting place in the world.
I believe this mosque and cultural center will be a tremendous addition to Lower Manhattan; it will create a place to understand and appreciate the true meaning of Islam and a place to erase much of the misconception that exists in society today.
I want to thank the diverse group of religious leaders who stood in support of this center and who stood together to send the strong and clear message that if you try to exclude one religion from New York City, you are in fact trying to eliminate every religion from New York City. We simply cannot allow that to happen in the most diverse city in the greatest democracy in the world.