In his passionate defenses of the planned mosque near Ground Zero, New York City Mayor Bloomberg depicts the issue as a simple case of freedom of religion.

"People have a right to pray, and I think, you know, we have a quarter of a million Muslims that live In this city . . . These are our citizens and they have a right to have their own place of worship," he said on the John Gambling radio show last week.

He even invoked America's earliest days, saying that "the Pilgrims came here because they couldn't practice their religion back 3,000 miles to the east, and for us to walk away from that, particularly after 9/11...we're not going to let that happen."

The mayor certainly has a point -- up to a point.

All Americans, including Muslims, must enjoy freedom of religion, a bedrock principle of our nation. Yet the argument alone is insufficient to the case at hand, and insulting to those who prefer facts to a lecture.

The travails of the Pilgrims, bless their hearts, cannot be the only standard for judging the mosque plan.

There are already numerous mosques in New York, and others are planned, so there is no threat to Muslims' religious freedom here. With no suggestion it be taken away, the mayor's passion is directed at a straw man.

Far from being about freedom of religion, the mosque battle is a land-use controversy magnified by its proximity to Ground Zero. It's a real-estate story -- location, location, location.

Given the heated emotions and concerns, then, New Yorkers who object to or have questions about the building of this shrine in this spot deserve some answers and reassurance. A politically correct put-down that demands conformity won't cut it.

Let's put the burden where it belongs -- on the promoters and their supporters. They need to be more open about their plans, their financing and, most important, about why they insist on a mosque so close to American hallowed ground.

So far, they have failed those tests. They haven't tried very hard to win over skeptics or answer the obvious questions.

The burden is not on this nation to prove its openness to Arabs and Muslims. They enjoy more freedom In America than In any Islamic country.

Even on the bedrock measurement of simple tolerance, New York cannot be faulted, given how the city never developed a vengeful attitude toward the faith or nationalities of those who carried out the 9/11 attacks.

The point, then, is not to shut down those who are offended by the mosque plan, as are some 9/11 families. Nor is it enough to label as bigots those who are merely unsure of whether the plan is a good one.

That's where I find myself. The debate has not persuaded me either way. My instinct started with an openness to the idea, and so far, there is no compelling reason why the mosque shouldn't move forward, assuming the city doesn't landmark the two buildings.

But the case for the mosque is not persuasive, either. The sponsors and their supporters are not stepping forward in the ways I believed they would and should.

For example, almost nothing is known about where the $100 million to build the mosque would come from. The source is not incidental, given that some Islamic sects are hostile to nonbelievers.

That's just one of many questions that deserve an answer. If the sponsors have nothing to hide and want to be good neighbors, they should make the extra effort to clear the air.

Until they do, they don't deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Michael Goodwin is a New York Post columnist and Fox News contributor. Ton continue reading his column in the New York Post, click here.

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