Obama has "No Regrets" Over Weighing in on "Ground Zero Mosque"

President Barack Obama gestures while talking about the economy, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster
AP

Updated 2:20 p.m. ET

President Obama said Wednesday said he had "no regrets" about weighing in on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" in comments he made on Friday night and over the weekend.

A reporter asked Mr. Obama whether he had any regrets over his remarks, which have ignited a political firestorm, at the end of a town hall the president was holding with residents in Columbus, Ohio.

On Friday night, Mr. Obama addressed a group celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the White House with his first public comments on the proposed community center and mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero. Many local New York and national Republicans have been sharply critical of the project for past several weeks and months.

"As a citizen and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," he said. "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."

The president clarified his comments a bit during a visit to Florida on Saturday by noting that while Muslims have the right to build the center near ground zero, but would not say whether he believes it is a good idea to do so.

"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding," he said. "My intention was simply to let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion."

White House spokesman Burton Bill Burton added the following on Saturday as well: "What he said last night, and reaffirmed today, is that if a church, a synagogue or a Hindu temple can be built on a site, you simply cannot deny that right to those who want to build a mosque."

Since then, the remarks helped transform the issue into a national debate. Many Republicans have seized on it to criticize the president and other Democrats as they seek to make it a campaign issue. Some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have also criticized the project.

Polls have shown that most Americans do not support the project, and a new poll on New Yorkers released today by Siena College finds that 63 percent of state residents oppose the project, with 27 percent supporting it. However, 64 percent say the developers have a right to build the center, with twenty-eight percent say they do not. Among those in opposition, a little more than half agree the developers have the right to build it.

Mr. Obama did not elaborate more in his answer today, just saying he had "no regrets" and then walking away.

More Coverage of the "Ground Zero Mosque" Controversy:

Washington Unplugged: Mass. Gov. Patrick Defends "Ground Zero Mosque"
"Ground Zero Mosque" Developers: We Won't Move
Pelosi Wants to Investigate Funding of "Ground Zero Mosque" Critics
N.Y. Gov. David Paterson Plans to Meet With "Ground Zero Mosque" Backers
Pat Buchanan Says Gingrich "Political Opportunist," Went "Too Far"
Mosque Opponents Leaving Ground Zero Shops AloneReid: Ground Zero Mosque Should be Somewhere ElseGOP to Hammer Obama, Dems on Ground Zero Mosque
Obama Defends Ground Zero Mosque