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'Ground Zero Mosque': A Conservative Undermines His Own Crusade

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Should a fellow appointed to a federal commission created to promote religious tolerance overseas be a member of the opposition to the Cordoba House project, which has been dubbed the "Ground Zero mosque" by its critics?

Leonard Leo, one of Washington's little-known but influential insiders, is a longtime conservative activist and a top official of the Federalist Society, a right-wing legal outfit. During the George W. Bush administration, he was one of a quartet of conservative power brokers dubbed the Four Horseman, who held daily conference calls to shape judicial strategies for the White House. He's also chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an organization that is solely funded by the federal government to monitor and encourage religious freedom abroad. It is not a powerful agency; its annual budget is $4.3 million. (Leo and his fellow commissioners do not receive salaries.) But his position on the commission does afford Leo, who was appointed to the USCIRF by Bush in 2007, and his fellow commissioners perches of prominence. They release reports decrying religious repression overseas. They issue press releases. They attend conferences. They testify before Congress. On the commission's website, Leo describes the commission's noble mission: "to advance the visibility of and serious thinking about how the United States can best address" the challenge of religious "intolerance." He notes, "In short, we are committed to ensuring" that religious freedom "extends to all corners of the globe."

Leonard Leo, Ground Zero MosqueBut perhaps not to Lower Manhattan. As my colleague Nick Baumann and I recently reported, Leo, when not overseeing this religious freedom commission, is a director of Liberty Central, a Tea Party-related group that is energetically opposing the Cordoba House project.

Conservative activist Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, last year launched Liberty Central, with the aim of connecting the Tea Party movement to Washington's conservative establishment. She has declared that President Obama is guiding the country toward "tyranny," and the group's mission, according to its website, is to "return to a government that adheres to our core Founding Principles -- limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, free enterprise, and national security." And Thomas recruited Leonard Leo to be a director of her group.

This week, the Liberty Central home page is promoting as its top "take action" priority opposing the "Ground Zero Mosque." The group is mounting an electronic petition drive against the Islamic cultural center, decrying the project as "a strategic move to slap the face of Americans." The petition mocks those who maintain this is an issue of religious tolerance. And say what you want about the Cordoba House project, it's hard to figure out the connection between this controversy and the Tea Party's call for limited government. Still, Liberty Central is beating this drum loud.

Which brings us back to the above question: Should Leo be associating with those who would deny New York Muslims the right to be build this Islamic center? After all, it's his job to press other nations to abide by religious freedoms enshrined in international human rights accords. Leo's standing as a champion of religious freedom is hardly bolstered by his support for a group fighting the Cordoba House project -- which has become the main target of anti-Islam activists (such as Pam Geller, a blogger who launched this controversy and who runs an organization called Stop Islamization of America). Certainly, Leo is entitled to an opinion on this matter. But as the head of an official U.S. agency charged with encouraging religious freedom, it would be prudent of him not to hobnob with those denouncing the project. (Two other conservative commissioners of the USCIRF -- Nina Shea and Richard Land -- are opposing the Islamic center.)

Perhaps there's a principled argument against the center, though I suspect much of the hullabaloo is being ginned up by conservative demagogues yearning for a wedge issue -- that is, this summer's version of "death panels." But anyone preaching religious tolerance overseas ought to err on the side of tolerance at home. By standing with Virginia Thomas' narrow crusade, Leo has undermined the credibility of his larger crusade.

You can follow David Corn's posts and media appearances via Twitter.
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There are many Libs/Progs ranting about the Constitution and its' support of freedom of religion. They are correct on this point, but they self-servingly MISS THE POINT. There is nothing in our Constitution that says we must allow our ENEMY to build recruiting and training centers for those who would harm our Country, and our citizens.

August 25 2010 at 6:39 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

If you, the reader of this comment, lost a very close friend because someone had killed them and then, for whatever reason, the family of the person who killed your close friend decided that they would move into the house right next to you - how would you feel? Even though they didn't kill your friend, they are the killer's family - Mother, Father etc. No matter how sorry they were, you most likely would not want them next door. Well..the people who died in the World Trade Center bombing don't want people who are members of the family that killed them right next door to their final resting place. I don't believe all Muslims are like Osama Bin Laden and his "people" but I would think that out of respect, the people in charge would choose another place to put their mosque - Since there are plenty of places in Manhattan that they could put one. And also since it isn't like they don't have mosques all over the city. Why is it so important to be near Ground Zero?

August 25 2010 at 9:11 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Building a mosque near the WTC is a NY zoning issue. Should it be built? Probly not since it is upsetting so many people and is just causing division. Should it be forbidden? Uh, excuse me, this is America! Talk about tyranny! Just a reminder the destroyed wing of the pentagon, designers put in a chapel where Muslim services are held daily..along with christian and hindu. This is just another stupid issue to take everyones eye of the real ball..the fact that Republicans havent got a clue. And now we are buying the BS and will be handing over the House in Nov. to the same guys who got us into this mess in the first place....

August 25 2010 at 1:00 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Here's something that I heard on Fox News Channel. There was a Greek Orthodox Church across the street from the Twin Towers that collapsed on September 11th. It had been there since 1916. The congregation has been trying to rebuild, but the church had been on Port Authority property. Trying to get approval to rebuild on the site, or on a parcel of land in the immediately vicinity has been a slow process, with no end in site. Both the leadership and the congregation as a whole feel that the proponents of the mosque should be able to go ahead with construction, once ground is broken for the replacement building for the Greek Orthodox congregation. So, it seems to me that any church that was destroyed or damaged by the events of September 11th should have their building issues resolved before any other houses of worship go up.

August 24 2010 at 3:55 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Hypocrisy is the hallmark of conservatives. Mr. Leo should be forced to resign his appointment.

August 24 2010 at 1:57 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

It you are going to invade two Muslin countries, saying you are going to install democracy, then you should allow democracy in the country you live in. If there are a hundred or so Mosques in the area, what's one more community center in a blighted area with a strip joint across the street. Get over it, and fight for something relevant, like jobs. I didn't hear all of the this complaining when Bush was holding hands with the Saudi, Wahhabi's, you know, the people who were on those planes.

August 24 2010 at 1:36 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Conservatives don't need a "wedge issue". It's out of sincere concern & yes, "principled" reasons. Again, it's not "denying right to build". They all have said they agree with the "right"....but how about the "prudence", etc.? which they have every right to voice. There're about 100 mosques already in NY & thousands in the country with no protests, etc. That proves this isn't bigotry or fearmongering, etc. No - it's that THIS one is very suspicious for good reasons - the Imam being on record as stating sympathies with Hamas, promotes Sharia law, refusing to say where funding is coming from, etc. No where in the Koran is it taught for "interfaith" outreach - it's just the opposite! BTW they are also taught to lie whenever necessary to further their goal of world takeover, which ALL Muslims believe in. Their goal is to gradually impose Sharia law via the "stealth" method, taking advantage of our ignorance of Islam & freedoms, as they have always done until they get large numbers & then start forcing their belief system on us. Islam is not just an "ordinary" harmless "religion" - it's unique and also political w/world takeover taught. Is this what our Founders had in mind for "freedom of"? Check Dearborn, MI, Denmark, Europe. Do your homework and stop letting your political ideology/pride get in the way of the safety & existence of our "free" country.

August 24 2010 at 12:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to momprayn's comment

No one is denying anyone anything. Because Mr. Leo is a conservative provides fodder for liberals to say whatever they want, even if it's totally out of context. "USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress." Secondly, Liberty Central, is a non profit organization designed to promote education, civil discourse, and activism focused on protecting core founding principles of the United States. They have every right to distribute any information they want to Americans. You agree or disagree. You read it or you don't. But, to make it into anything bigger is pure left wing propaganda. Mr. Leo has every right to align himself with like minded, thinking people who share the same values. In my view there is no conflict of interest. If the government no longer needs his services they can do something about it. Because Mr. Corn has chosen to make this a constitutional issue, ie.; freedom of religion, doesn't make it true. It isn't.

August 24 2010 at 12:22 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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