New York Mosque Controversy Fires Up National Campaign

It's a case of right vs. right.

That's the position of the Anti-Defamation League on the construction of a 15-story, $100 million mosque and community center scheduled near New York City's Ground Zero.

The sponsors of the construction project have "every right to build at the site," the ADL said, noting the "bigotry that some have expressed in attacking” the building’s proprietors.

But the ADL said the decision to build ultimately is not a matter of rights, but of what is the right thing to do.

"The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.  Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found," the ADL said.

That got the Council of American-Islamic Relations to weigh in on the ADL's position, issuing its own statement asking the ADL "to reconsider and retract this ill-considered and divisive statement.

"With its shameful statement, the ADL is exploiting and fueling the rising level of anti-Islam sentiment in our society," CAIR said.

Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, told Fox News that that the Islamic faith and New York Muslim community "have nothing to do with 9/11."

"In fact, they have been the victims of 9/11, like anyone else. So why should we allow bigots to limit the rights of American Muslims in New York to build? On what basis? Fear-mongering? Misunderstanding? Bigotry?" he asked.

The proposed facility includes not just a mosque but a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, artist exhibition space, bookstores and shops. Originally titled "Cordoba House" -- a reference to the Spanish capital where Muslim conquerors vanquished Spanish Catholics in the 8th century -- the site was renamed to a more neutral "Park 51," which notes the four adjacent buildings on downtown Park Place where the site is slated to occupy.

The debate over Park 51's construction has grown beyond the borders of downtown Manhattan into a national controversy, demonstrated by a television ad produced by the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee, which uses graphic imagery from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to argue that the construction of a mosque and Islamic center two blocks north of Ground Zero would constitute "an invitation for more."

"On September 11th, they declared war against us.  And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero," the ad's narrator says. "A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand. The political class says nothing.  The politicians are doing nothing to stop it. But we Americans will be heard. Join the fight to kill the Ground Zero mosque."

The National Republican Trust PAC is a Washington-based organization that has spent about $5 million this cycle and about double that in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Aside from well-known Republican personalities like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin weighing in, one North Carolina congressional candidate, a former Marine named Ilario Pantano, has begun campaigning on the issue.

"It is not about reconciliation or understanding. It is about marking religious, ideological, and territorial conquest,” he wrote in a June 18 op-ed that Pantano’s campaign re-circulated over the weekend. This mosque is a Martyr-Marker honoring the terrorists who less than a decade ago killed thousands of us just two blocks away, and it must be stopped."

A poll conducted in late June of about 1,200 registered voters in New York City found respondents there opposed to the mosque's construction at that location, 52-31 percent.

But the project has the backing of three of the city's most powerful elected officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

"The government should never, never be in the business of telling people how they should pray or where they can pray," Bloomberg said of the project. "We want to make sure that everybody from around the world feels comfortable coming here, living here and praying the way they want to pray.”

Also causing concern is the fact that the leader of the group behind the project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in the past has refused to classify Hamas as a terrorist group and has argued that U.S. foreign policy was an "accessory" to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Fox News' James Rosen contributed to this report.