Prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders held an extraordinary "emergency summit" meeting in the capital on Tuesday to denounce what they called "the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry" aimed at American Muslims during the controversy over the proposed Islamic community center near ground zero.
"This is not America," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the emeritus Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, flanked by three dozen clergy members and religious leaders at a packed news conference at the National Press Club. "America was not built on hate."
They said they were alarmed that the "anti-Muslim frenzy" and attacks at several mosques had the potential not only to tear apart the country, but also to undermine the reputation of America as a model of religious freedom and diversity.
The imam behind the plan to build an Islamic center near ground zero, Feisal Abdul Rauf, finally spoke out about the controversy, saying in an opinion piece in The New York Times published Tuesday night that he would proceed with plans to build the center. He wrote that by backing down, "we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides."
Indeed, the Times gave more free positive publicity to its favorite religious figure, granting him editorial space to affirm his decision to build a mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in the name of Islam, "Building on Faith in Lower Manhattan ."
The meeting in Washington occurred amid growing concern by the White House, the State Department and the top American military commander in Afghanistan over plans by Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Florida, to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Goodstein passed on the clergy blaming conservatives for "a poisoned climate."
The clergy members said that those responsible for a poisoned climate included politicians manipulating a wedge issue in an election year, self-styled "experts" on Islam who denigrate the faith for religious or political reasons and some conservative evangelical Christian pastors.
Goodstein delayed until deep into the story information that a Muslim group organized the summit, with leaders of other faiths tagging along.
The summit meeting was initiated by leaders of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group of mosques and Muslim groups, who contacted Jewish and Christian leaders they know from years of joint interfaith projects.
Goodstein concluded by pointing out that while the alliance "did not take a stand on whether to support the proposed mosque and community center near ground zero in Manhattan," an (unlabeled )group of leftist churches did.
But some groups at the meeting, like the National Council of Churches, an umbrella group representing 100,000 churches, have come out in support of a mosque near the World Trade Center site, said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the council.
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