While virtually every Republican and conservative leader has come out strongly against the construction of the proposed Park 51 Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York City, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) strongly defended the organizers’ right to build the center today, saying, “what made this country great is we have religious freedom.” In an interview with Fox 13 News in Salt Lake City, Hatch — who has long been a proponent of religious liberty — said it shouldn’t “make a difference” that the majority of Americans don’t support the center’s construction, because religious freedom is too important, and noted that the proposed site is actually “a few blocks away” from Ground Zero.
And countering those on the right who have implicated Islam in terrorism, or who have tried to paint it as anything less than a legitimate religion, Hatch said that “there are Muslims killed on 9/11 too,” and said, “we know [Islam is] a great religion”:
HATCH: Let’s be honest about it, in the First Amendment, religious freedom, religious expression, that really express matters to the Constitution. So, if the Muslims own that property, that private property, and they want to build a mosque there, they should have the right to do so. The only question is are they being insensitive to those who suffered the loss of loved ones? We know there are Muslims killed on 9/11 too and we know it’s a great religion. … But as far as their right to build that mosque, they have that right.
I just think what’s made this country great is we have religious freedom. That’s not the only thing, but it’s one of the most important things in the Constitution. [...]
There’s a question of whether it’s too close to the 9/11 area, but it’s a few blocks away, it isn’t right there. … And there’s a huge, I think, lack of support throughout the country for Islam to build that mosque there, but that should not make a difference if they decide to do it. I’d be the first to stand up for their rights.
In defending Muslims’ right to build the community center, Hatch, who is Mormon, noted that his religion has faced its own opposition the building its houses of worship. Nonetheless, fellow Mormons like Fox News host Glenn Beck, and disappointingly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have come out against the mosque in New York. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is also Mormon, has been “noticeably absent” from the mosque debate.