Published December 23, 2015
President Obama will speak Friday at a dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as a debate in New York City rages about whether a mosque should be built near the former site of the World Trade Center's twin towers.
But it's not clear whether Obama will make his first comments about the mosque controversy.
"I have not seen the president's final remarks," Gibbs said. "I will say this: I think the president strongly believes that our country was founded on -- first and foremost -- on a tenet of religious freedom."
The White House has been calling the matter solely a local one. When asked how the the president's speech would stay consistent with that, Gibbs said, "Religious freedom is something that the president believes in, and I think you'll hear him talk about it tonight.
The planned mosque's location two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 terror attack has touched off a huge debate in New York.
A handful of Republicans, like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have blasted the project’s location, while other leaders, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have forcefully defended it as a symbol of America's religious tolerance.
Religious leaders from various denominations also have supported the group's plans, arguing that critics' attacks amount to "religious bigotry."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.