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Obama says no regrets over ground zero Islamic center comments

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Obama: 'No regrets' on mosque comments
  • President Obama's remarks last week became a political issue
  • Republicans criticized the comments as being out of touch with the public
  • Obama and Democrats say religious freedom is a constitutional right

Columbus, Ohio (CNN) -- President Obama said Wednesday that he has "no regrets" about his comments last week supporting the rights of Muslims to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks from the site of the September 11 terror attacks in New York.

"The answer is no regrets," Obama said when asked about bringing up the issue Friday at a White House dinner commemorating the start of Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

At the dinner, Obama said that those wanting to build the Islamic center and mosque have the constitutional right to religious freedom. On Saturday, he clarified that he was talking only about the right to build the center and not the "wisdom" of doing so close to "ground zero," where more than 2,700 people died when planes hijacked by terrorists slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

The remarks sparked a national debate on the emotional issue, with many Republicans condemning the president as insensitive to families of victims and out of touch with the views of most Americans.

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Many Democrats responded that the right to religious freedom applies to all Americans, though some -- including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- said they oppose having the Islamic center so close to ground zero.

A CNN poll showed that 70 percent of respondents opposed having an Islamic center near the site. A separate poll released Wednesday by the Siena Research Institute found that 63 percent opposed it, but 64 percent said the center's developers have a constitutional right to build it.