Coalition formed in support of New York mosque

Numerous civil rights and religious groups on Wednesday announced the creation of a coalition to voice support for a Muslim community center and mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks in Manhattan.

The move comes three days after hundreds of opponents of the center protested near the former site of the World Trade Center. The proposed Muslim community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan has sparked contentious national debate in recent weeks, with opponents saying the location is insensitive to the nearly 3,000 people who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The new coalition, called the New York Neighbors for American Values, said the center, which would be built a few blocks from the former site of the twin towers, would be a positive addition to the neighborhood and is needed to foster religious tolerance. The debate, coalition members said, is creating fear.

“It’s not appropriate for us to say here in New York, ‘Religious freedom, but not in my backyard,’ ” said Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and a member of the coalition.

Lieberman said an attack on a cabdriver this week was an example of violence fueled by fear-mongering. Ahmed Sharif, 43, was slashed across the neck, face and shoulders Tuesday night, allegedly after his assailant asked if Sharif was a Muslim.

Michael Enright, 21, has been arrested on an array of charges, including attempted murder as a hate crime, according to the New York Police Department.

“This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a statement. Bloomberg, who supports the mosque project, planned to meet with Sharif on Thursday.

Various politicians have voiced opposition to the location of the mosque, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was New York mayor during the Sept. 11 attacks, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Some mosque opponents include family members of people killed when the twin towers collapsed, but among those expressing support Wednesday was Adele Welty, whose 34-year-old son died in the terrorist attacks.

“What about my sensitivities?” said Welty, who is a member of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which is part of the coalition.