The Anti-Defamation League called the plan to build a Muslim community and prayer center two blocks from ground zero “counterproductive to the healing process.” Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan suggested the mosque’s developers find another site. But while some in the religious world equivocated, the leaders pictured here unambiguously defended the project. Some supported the mayor at his August 3 press conference denouncing opposition to the mosque. Others joined in an interfaith statement made in Washington, D.C., in September. They all spoke from their pulpits.
“All of a sudden it was respectable for people to be attacking Muslims as a part of the political debate leading up to an election,” says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “To me, that was an extraordinary change.” “I think it’s an extremely dangerous thing to create divisions between people,” says Bishop Mark S. Sisk, of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, who believes most of those who opposed the mosque were non–New Yorkers. If anyone could be expected to have a problem with the Park51 plan, it might be Father Mark Arey, the ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. His church, St. Nicholas, was crushed by the collapse of the World Trade Center’s South Tower on September 11, 2001, and the Port Authority has yet to clear the way for it to be rebuilt. But when Arey started getting calls asking, “Aren’t you people outraged that they’re building a mosque, and you can’t rebuild your church?” his answer was always the same: “We support freedom of religion, period.”