Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, ripped Gov. Tim Pawlenty Friday for dumping on a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City.
“I know he wants to be president really bad, and I know he’s trying to appeal to the most extreme elements of his party to do that, but I hope he doesn’t want to be president so bad that he’s willing to dishonor the First Amendment and our heritage of religious tolerance,” Ellison told the Star Tribune.
In an interview with Real Clear Politics, Pawlenty suggested that it’s unpatriotic for a mosque to be built near Ground Zero.
"I'm strongly opposed to the idea of putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero — I think it's inappropriate," Pawlenty said. "I believe that 3,000 of our fellow innocent citizens were killed in that area, and some ways from a patriotic standpoint, it's hallowed ground, it's sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn't have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way."
Ellison said that Pawlenty displayed “a profound lack of understanding” about religious tolerance, and he should apologize for his remarks.
“It’s very unseemly that a Midwestern politician would try to divide New Yorkers and Americans on the basis of religion,” the Minnesota Democrat said.
The mosque, which would be built two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attacks, has drawn the ire of conservative Republicans, such as Sarah Palin, who tweeted: "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing."
But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican often discussed as a possible independent presidential candidate, defended the mosque as a display of tolerance.
Pawlenty is laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run in 2012, and his remarks on the mosque are the latest instance where the governor has weighed in on a national controversy, such as the Arizona immigration law.