WASHINGTON — The Senate's top Democrat on Monday came out against plans to build a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, moving away from President Barack Obama on the controversial election-year issue.
Locked in a tight race, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid became the highest profile Democrat to respond to Obama, who last week backed the right for the developers to build a mosque near ground zero. Since his comments Friday, the Democratic president and his aides have worked to explain the statement, which drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," said Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman. "Sen. Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else."
Critics say the location of the mosque is insensitive because the terrorists who struck were Islamic extremists. The plans call for a $100 million Islamic center two blocks from where almost 3,000 people perished when hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
Reid is in a close campaign for re-election. A spokesman for Republican Sharron Angle, Reid's opponent, said that Muslims have the right to worship anywhere but that Obama's support for construction of the mosque "ignored the wishes of the American people, this time at the expense of victims of 9/11 and their families."
Spokesman Jarrod Agen argued that the families consider the mosque an "affront to the memories of their loved ones."