Barack Obama has backed plans to build a mosque and Muslim cultural centre near Ground Zero – scene of the 2001 September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.
Speaking at the White House the US President said religious freedom was a vital part of the American identity.
“I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. The Ground Zero is indeed a hallowed ground. But let me be clear. As a citizen and as president I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.
“That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” the president added.
The project has met with vociferous opposition from many Republicans and relatives of the 2,750 people who died when Islamist militants hijacked two passenger aircraft and crashed them into the twin towers.