Utah senator backs NYC mosque
Cites Belmont Mormon temple
One of the nation’s leading Mormon elected officials has cited the battle over a Mormon temple in Belmont in arguing that Muslims should be allowed to build a mosque near ground zero.
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said mosque proponents “have every right’’ to carry out their plans in New York, just as Mormons had a right to build their temple, despite neighborhood opposition.
“I have a tendency, when it comes to religious liberty issues, to always uphold the rights of legitimate churches and legitimate religious groups to be able to meet and to build their mosques or their chapels or their cathedrals on property they own, and I will fight for their right to do that,’’ Hatch said, speaking to a FOX News reporter in Utah.
“I remember when the Belmont, Mass., temple was going up . . . the local people got up in arms,’’ he said. “They didn’t want a Mormon church there to begin with. They couldn’t stop that, but then they tried to stop the steeple with the angel Moroni.’’
In supporting the building of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero, Hatch is taking a position different from his fellow Mormon, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Republican who is considered a strong contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2012. Romney, who was a leading proponent of the Belmont temple, said through a spokesman that he opposes the proposed location for the lower Manhattan mosque.
“The wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda compel rejection of this site,’’ spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told Politico last month.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who is also Mormon, has said the mosque should be built elsewhere.
The proposal by a New York imam and developer to build a 15-story Islamic community center two blocks from the site where the World Trade Center once stood has generated national controversy over the last two months.
Hatch is one of the few national Republican leaders to offer a full-throated defense of the project on the basis of religious freedom; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has compared the proposal to putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.
In the interview, Hatch credited the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and a close friend of Hatch, with helping Massachusetts Mormons weather the controversy over the Belmont temple, which was dedicated in 2000 atop Belmont Hill along Route 2.
Neighbors had fought against the temple and then against the addition of a 139-foot steeple topped by a statue of an angel, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the church’s right to build it, in a unanimous decision.
“I think my good friend Senator Kennedy helped me on that one,’’ Hatch said. “I went to him and I said, ‘Look’ — actually, I did not use very good language — I said, ‘What the heck are you dumbbells up there in Massachusetts doing?’ He said: ‘What do you mean? What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, they won’t even let us put a steeple on our temple with the Angel Moroni on it.’ And he said, ‘Well, we’ll see about that.’
“Later he was talking about religious freedom, and he said, ‘Well, I helped Hatch get the steeple on the Mormon temple with the angel Nephi on there,’ ’’ Hatch said, repeating a story he told at a memorial service for Kennedy. “I got a big kick out of that.’’
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.