Pennsylvania Democratic congressman and Senate candidate Joe Sestak said this morning that he supports the constitutional right to build the Ground Zero mosque but declined to say whether it's insensitive to 9/11 families.
"As you know, I haven’t taken very good direction yet from party leadership," Sestak said following a campaign event with New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has given moral support to the proposed Ground Zero mosque. "All that said, I strongly believe in the Constitutional right of religious freedom and in the separation of church and state applied equally to everyone. Those are rights that I defended for 31 years in that fine U.S. Navy. This is an issue for New York to resolve as long as it respects those constitutional rights. Let’s also step back and say, let’s stop paying politics."
Asked about his personal opinion by THE WEEKLY STANDARD, given the sensitivities of the people and families who lost loved ones and friends on 9/11, Sestak said he respects their sensitivities but they weren't the most important consideration. "When I walked out of that Pentagon, 30 people who I knew never walked out of that building. My 9/11 is that Pentagon," he said with his voice raised. "Am I sensitive to their desires? Sure I am. But I also upheld a Constitution. For 31 years, I lived with men and women of all religions. And you know what? They’re all equal. And I believe that is most important." In other words, Sestak has taken President Obama's line on the issue--affirming the right to build it but not saying whether or not it's right to do so.
“It is provocative in the extreme to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero,” said a spokesman for Sestak's GOP Senate race opponent, Pat Toomey. “Islamic leaders should be encouraged to move the mosque elsewhere.”
After taking questions, Bloomberg and Sestak walked into the nearby supermarket for cheesesteaks. Bloomberg continued to defend the construction of the mosque. He reiterated his position by suggesting that terrorists would receive a victory if the mosque is not built.
"I actually believe that that is the most important right that we have, the right to say what we want to say, which includes pray to whomever we want in any place we want in any manner we want," the third-term mayor said to an audience member's question. "And I think that another mosque in New York City would add to its diversity and be good for the city. But if you want the terrorists to win without firing a shot, then you take away the very freedoms that our young men and women are around the world fighting for."