A dozen Minnesota Muslim groups have called for Gov. Tim Pawlenty to retract the statement he made Friday slamming a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City.

The groups, who sent a letter to Pawlenty’s office Monday, wrote that the Minnesota governor should respect freedom of religion, and asked that he meet with local Muslim leaders to “understand how his comments have negatively impacted the Minnesota Muslim community.”

“Our governor has engaged in collective guilt by saying that all Muslim activities and images anywhere near Ground Zero are degrading and disrespectful,” Taneeza Islam, civil rights director for Minnesota’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement.

Pawlenty’s spokesman Bruce Gordon said there’s “no misunderstanding” over the governor’s comments, which suggested building a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attacks was unpatriotic.

“The governor's message is clear: New York is a big place. Find a different location for the mosque,” Gordon said in an email.

On Friday, Pawlenty said “it’s inappropriate” to put a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero.

"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,” Pawlenty said. “We shouldn't have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way."

The letter from the groups, which includes organizations like CAIR-MN as well as several local Islamic centers, echoes comments made Friday by Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress, who said Pawlenty was dishonoring the First Amendment.

The proposed mosque, which would be built two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, has been attacked by many conservatives, though Republican New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended the plans.

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