A group of religious and civil rights groups and family members of 9/11 victims announced on Wednesday the formation of a new coalition in support of an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero.
Calling themselves the New York Neighbors for American Values, the coalition stood near City Hall in lower Manhattan defending religious freedom and diversity.
"We share the pain ... and yes, even the lingering fear caused by the September 11 attacks. But we unequivocally reject the political posturing, the fear mongering and the crude stereotyping that seek to demonize the project whose goal is to build bridges among the faiths," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
"We are committed to resisting the efforts to push Park51 out of downtown and we reject the refrain of 'freedom of religion but not in my backyard,'" she added.
Talat Hamdani lost a 23-year-old son, a paramedic, in the 2001 terrorist attacks. But she said supporting the Islamic center and mosque "has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with standing up for our human rights, including freedom of religion," as reported by The Associated Press.
The proposed $100 million center and mosque has drawn fire from thousands of Americans who say building a Muslim house of worship just two blocks from the site where nearly 3,000 people died is insensitive. The project, called Park51, is being spearheaded by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who founded the Cordoba Initiative, a Muslim outreach group.
Organizers insist that it is part of an effort to promote tolerance and improve Muslim-West relations.
Concerns have been raised over the source of funding for the project as well as over Imam Rauf, particularly over his refusal to describe Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The Rev. Katharine Henderson, executive vice president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, defended the imam, noting that she has worked with him and his wife, Daisy Kahn, for over a decade.
"They are the real thing," Henderson said Wednesday. "These are allies. These are Muslim leaders that we need in our city. They have given their lives for American values."
The unveiling of the coalition comes days after some 700 protesters rallied against Park51. Rally organizers warned that the mosque could promote Sharia (Islamic) law.
Tim Sumner, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, backed the argument by revealing that the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which Rauf founded, received over half a million dollars last year from Sharia-compliant organizations in Qatar.
With the lack of transparency surrounding funding for Park51, Sumner said money that was used to purchase the property on Park Place, where the community center and mosque will be built, could also be linked to Sharia-compliant organizations.
Opponents are calling for more transparency. In the meantime, some are expressing their opposition through ads.
Currently, New York City buses are displaying ads that ask "Why There?" The ad includes a picture of the burning World Trade Center near a drawing of a high-rise building with an Islamic crescent.