A coalition of 9/11 family members and leaders have sent a letter to the developers and opponents of a controversial Islamic Center near the former World Trade Center requesting that no public protest rallies or demonstrations be held in New York on this year's 9/11 anniversary.
"We stand together in expressing our opposition to staging a high profile, public protest rally specifically on September 11th, when so many families' and others' priorities will properly be focused on prayer, remembrance, and private reflection throughout the day and evening," the letter says.
"To hold rallies on September 11 would be inappropriate and disrespectful to all of us who see 9/11 as a day outside of politics, when we all remain united in honoring the lives and the courage of our many friends and loved ones," it continues.
The letter was signed by individuals and groups such as the Voices of September 11, the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, and several family members of 9/11 victims.
The Islamic Center's developers have yet to respond to the request, but opponents of the center say they will not call off a protest they've been planning, noting that "the rally is not the problem, the mosque is."
"For many family members, the looming, unresolved mosque controversy has made the upcoming September 11th Anniversary even more upsetting and troubling. There can be no peace and reflection for the 9/11 families who strongly feel that this proposed mosque is disrespectful and insensitive," the group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) said in a statement. "On 9/11, as the world is focusing on Ground Zero, families want to be able to raise their voices and say to the world that this is wrong."
SIOA has been one of the most vocal opponents of the center, now known as the Park51 project, and staged a protest in June that had thousands of participants.
Debate over the Park51 project has lasted for months now with both sides attempting to define the threshold of America's religious tolerance.
Supporters of the project, which include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say the center must be built on the grounds of religious freedom, while opponents have seen the project as either a gross insensitivity to 9/11 victims or a political statement for Islam.
In August during an iftar dinner, President Barack Obama gave strong support for the constitutional rights of the center's developers to build at the site, although he later said that he was "not commenting on the wisdom" of the project.
The project has also divided the nation's Christian community, which has been polarized along similar lines as the rest of the country.
Several evangelical leaders, including Michael Youssef of Leading the Way ministry, have called the center part of a global Islamic plot to dominate the world.
"Most Westerners do not understand that Islam is not a religion in their true understanding of what the word means," Youssef said. "Islam is a political and social ideology that will never submit to a secular form of government. Islamists will wait until such time as they are able to transform societies into Sharia-dominated ones, giving citizens a Taliban-type government."
Christians in the ecumenical community, meanwhile, are supporting the building of the Islamic center, and have encouraged believers to "love the stranger" and embrace the American Muslim community.
"We are keenly aware that many Muslims, as well as Jews, Christians, Hindus, and others, lost family members in the attacks on September 11, 2001. We recognize, as does the Muslim community around the world, that it was a group of Muslims who embraced terrorism and teachings counter to the Qur'an and Islam that carried out this action. We stand with the majority of Muslims-including American Muslims-who are working against such radical influences in their communities," a statement from the National Council of Churches (NCC) reads.
"They have our support for building the Cordoba House as a living monument to mark the tragedy of 9/11 through a community center dedicated to learning, compassion, and respect for all people. This effort is consistent with our country's principle of freedom of religion, and the rights all citizens should enjoy," they added.
Other Christians have taken more drastic approaches, including controversial televangelist Bill Keller, who has planned to build a competing multi-million dollar Christian center in similar proximity to Ground Zero as the Park51 project.
"I was in prayer and God said, 'Listen, if the Muslims can build a temple to their false god at Ground Zero, why can't there be a place dedicated to the true God of the Bible on that same area?'" Keller told Charisma Magazine. "Rather than a [protest] event we're going to have an ongoing work of God right there because the Bible says you combat the darkness with the light."
Keller, whose website includes daily "devotions" on Islam such as "A False Religion that is About Hate and Death," is currently holding church services at the Marriott hotel ballroom on West Street and says that a permanent location for the Christian center will be announced in December of this year.
More opposition to American Muslims has come from the Dove World Outreach Center, a Florida-based church which has planned to hold an "International Burn the Qur'an Day" on this year's 9/11 anniversary.
The plans have been denounced by the NCC, who said that the event's leaders are "misguided or confused about the love of neighbor by which Christ calls us to live" and are instead engaged in harassment of Muslims.
"Such open acts of hatred are not a witness to Christian faith, but a grave trespass against the ninth commandment, a bearing of false witness against our neighbor. They contradict the ministry of Christ and the witness of the church in the world," the NCC said.
"We ask all Christians to promote respect and love of neighbor, and to speak and work against extremist ideas, working with Muslims as appropriate, in order to live out the commandment to love our neighbor, and to promote peace," they added.
The NCC reposted its statement on the event yesterday in response to what the group's general secretary the Rev. Michael Kinnamon said were "many requests from persons of good will who wish to make it abundantly clear to the international community that millions of Americans reject the anti-Muslim expressions of some communities who seem to be reacting out of fear and a misunderstanding of the true nature of Islam."