Defending construction of a mosque near Ground Zero, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that it must be allowed because the government "shouldn't be in the business of picking" one religion over another.
The construction of 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural centre, which many Americans insist should not be built near the 9/11 site where the twin towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed, was pushed by Kuwaiti-born Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and will cost a USD 100 million.
"I think it's fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming," the New York Post quoted Bloomberg as saying. "And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too," he said.
Last week, a New York community board approved the building of mosque and cultural centre close to the Ground Zero. After weeks of speculation, the board voted 29-1 in favour of the building the mosque with ten members abstaining.
The mosque did not need the permission from the board, but the approval is symbolic of the majority of New Yorkers attitude towards the project.
The Islamic centre will have a swimming pool, basketball court, meeting rooms, a 500-seat auditorium, banquet facilities, theatrical programming, art exhibitions and cooking classes.
"My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our purpose is to interweave America's Muslim population into the mainstream society," Imam Rauf wrote in the New York Daily News.
"The centre will be open to all regardless of religion. It will be a centre for all New Yorkers," he said. "What grieves me most is the false reporting that leads some families of 9/11 victims to think this project somehow is designed by Muslims to gloat over the attack."
As the debate intensifies, the mayor strongly advocated for the mosque by evoking spirit for democracy and the need for tolerance.
"What is great about America and particularly New York is we welcome everybody, and if we are so afraid of something like this, what does that say about us?" the mayor noted.
"Democracy is stronger than this. You know the ability to practice your religion was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to just say no is just, I think, not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it," he added.