Barack Obama got “emotional” according to several reports when he was asked at the end of his press conference today about the Park51 project.
“This country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal, that they have certain inalienable rights,” Obama said. “One of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.”
The president then talked his duties as commander-in-chief, and tried to tamp down some of the rhetoric that has engulfed this dispute:
The other reason it’s important for us to remember that is because we’ve got millions of Muslim-Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends, they’re our coworkers. And, you know, when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan, in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal clear, for our sakes and their sakes: they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between “them” and “us.” It’s just “us.”