New York mosque project site faces legal challenge

NEW YORK Tue Mar 15, 2011 5:53pm EDT

A demonstrator who supports the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque Park51 stands with a sign in front of the site in New York August 25, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A demonstrator who supports the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque Park51 stands with a sign in front of the site in New York August 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York building set to be demolished for an Islamic cultural center and mosque should be preserved as a monument of the September 11 al Qaeda attacks, opponents of the mosque project said in court Tuesday.

A lawsuit by a New York firefighter who survived the attacks in 2001 seeks to overturn a decision by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission last August denying landmark status to the Lower Manhattan building, clearing the way for the 16-story, $150 million center.

U.S. conservatives and many New Yorkers have spoken out against the proposed center, still at least six years from completion.

Opponents of the project argue it would be insensitive to put an Islamic cultural center and mosque so close to the site of the toppled World Trade Center twin towers, considering those responsible for the September 11 attacks were Muslim militants.

The project generated intense national debate last year, even drawing in President Barack Obama, who initially made comments that seemed to endorse the cultural center, but later said he only supported the organizers' right to build it.

The American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, argued during a hearing in New York Supreme Court that the site should be deemed a landmark because it was struck by the landing gear from one of the hijacked planes flown into the World Trade Center.

"That building is a monument to that day," attorney Jack Lester told the court. He and the ACLJ, founded by U.S. conservative Christian preacher Pat Robertson, are representing firefighter Tim Brown, who brought the suit.

Judge Paul Feinman raised the question as to whether that argument meant every building in the area damaged on September 11 needed to be landmarked. "No ... and that's why this case is unprecedented," Lester said.

Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, representing building owner Soho Properties, said the reason for the legal action was the intended use of the site as an Islamic cultural center.

"If we were building a grocery store in this spot, we wouldn't be here today," Bailey told the court. "Landing gear may have fallen on the building, but you wouldn't know today because it's been repaired."

Attorney Virginia Waters, representing the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the New York City Department of Buildings, said the building was not a monument to September 11 and was not part of the World Trade Center site.

"On September 11, the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center were not aimed at the Burlington Coat Factory," Waters said, referring to the retail business that used to occupy the 1857 Italianate building on Park Place.

"Century 21 is not a monument to September 11," added Waters, referring to a discount designer department store that was also damaged in the attacks.

Feinman said he would hand down a written decision on the case within four weeks.

(Additional reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Comments (5)
Mairin wrote:
If even the moderate muslims were sensitive enough to the enormous heartbreak their radical brothers wreaked on the people of America, and the world, there would not be this gross insult of even suggesting putting a mosque anywhere near where the atrocity took place in New York. Is it not enough that all those innocent lives were snuffed out by radical hatred? Now New Yorkers are supposed to accept this insulting attempt to build a monument to the success of Islamic hatred? Enough from the whinnying liberal gallery. Peel open your eyes and see what has been happening in this once beautiful world that God gave us. He came to earth to show the way of peace but too many of us have turned our backs to Him and therefore to peace. Absolutely no Monument to Hatred or further division, please. How about a centre for peace instead. A place where various cultures, who have built up America, can market their wares and have their ethnic restaurants and music gatherings? What a tourist venue that would be!

Mar 15, 2011 7:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
crbob wrote:
With our “politically correct” attitude toward Islam and the muslim community, they are going to push through the building of this place to foment hate against the U.S. where they can meet and decide on actions they should take against us. Read the Quran…..”if someone does not accept the Islamic faith, they are infidels and you may use any means at hand to destroy them”………

Mar 16, 2011 8:19am EDT  --  Report as abuse
pnipni wrote:
Recall Mayor Bloomberg!

Mar 16, 2011 11:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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