Mosque near Ground Zero?
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Mosque near Ground Zero?

Teaneck officials call Cordoba House case a reminder to protect freedom of religion

The New York Islamic center is a distraction from the real issues facing America, said Teaneck’s Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin.

“Regardless of whether this goes up, it’s not going to create jobs, it’s not going to get us out of the recession, it’s not going to make America safer,” the mayor told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

Hameeduddin is the only Muslim mayor in New Jersey. The Teaneck Township Council appointed him and Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, an Orthodox Jew, in July, but the two have known each other since their days at Teaneck High School. They have not seen the mosque issue drive a wedge between them or Teaneck’s fragile unity.

“We don’t agree on everything,” Gussen said. “The goodwill we’ve put in the bank over a decades-long friendship carries us through any differences we may have.”

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Teaneck Mayor Mohammad Hameeduddin, left, and Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen File photos

On this issue, however, it appears the two are in lockstep agreement.

Constitutional freedoms are at the center of the Cordoba debate, Gussen said. The First Amendment states that Congress shall pass no law to impede the free practice of religion, and Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 to strengthen freedom-of-religion claims in land-use and prison cases.

“The Religious Land Use Protection Act is special legislation that protects everyone’s freedom of religion, and either we’re for it and it applies to everybody, or we’re against it,” Hameeduddin said.

The Jewish community would not be thriving, as it is today, without constitutional religious freedoms, Gussen added.

“That we have freedom of religion and the ability to practice our faith the way we choose is essential,” he said. “We have to realize that everybody deserves those same freedoms, those same protections.”

Hameeduddin accepted an invitation to the White House for last Friday night, when President Obama addressed Muslim leaders in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During the evening, Obama spoke in support of Muslims’ right to build houses of worship, much to the surprise of his guests, Hameeduddin said. The president said on Saturday that he was not speaking specifically about the Cordoba House.

“There’s no need for him to weigh in,” the mayor said. “We understood what happened. As a politician he didn’t want to get stuck in the mud and [wanted to] just end the controversy.”

Gussen said that Jews should not join the anti-mosque bandwagon.

“As soon as a single religious group is singled out for treatment or religious persecution, the Jews will be next,” he said. “It’s essential we support other groups’ rights to practice their religion as needed.”

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