One press release better than 50; Park51 supporters bond


BY Aline Reynolds

Over 50 citywide and national organizations have assembled to form an umbrella coalition in support of Park51.

“New York Neighbors for American Values embraces our core American values of religious freedom, diversity and equality,” Susan Lerner said, reading from the coalition’s mission statement, in front of a crowd at the Manhattan Municipal Building on Centre St. last Wednesday.

Lerner continued, “As community groups and organizations representing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, we welcome the planned Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan — as we would welcome any center planned by neighbors of good will.”

“We stand together today to reject the crude stereotypes meant to frighten and divide us,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We unequivocally reject political posturing, the fear mongering…that seek to demonize a project whose goal is to build bridges among the faiths and to banish a community cultural and recreational center for people of all faiths…simply because it contains a place for Muslims to worship.”

The coalitions believes the debate surrounding Park51 is fueling anti-Muslim prejudice that has already stalled or hampered other Muslim religious projects around the country. The building of a mosque in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, for example, was delayed in part due to vocal opposition to the project. And in central Tennessee an Islamic cultural center was set on fire and federal authorities there suspect arson.

“We’re coming together to say, look, we’re a very broad, diverse coalition, and we’re all coming out in support of Park51,” said Deanna Bitetti, associate director of Common Cause New York, a nonprofit citizens advocacy group.

The coalition will be holding weekly meetings for its constituents to discuss strategies for supporting Cordoba.

“We plan to talk about how to support our elected officials and raise popular support of the project,” said Bitetti.

The coalition will also be planning future events in New York City to promote religious diversity, including a vigil on the eve of September 11 “to welcome the Park51/Cordoba House project in Lower Manhattan,” according to the coalition’s website, nyneighbors.org. In addition to launching the site, the coalition now has a Facebook page, which has attracted over 1,500 supporters.

“We’ve been monitoring the situation, trying to do whatever we can to help protect religious freedom in New York,” said Jennifer Carnig, communications director of N.Y.C.L.U., which has sent out petitions to over 40,000 New Yorkers that support Park51. They’re asked to identify themselves and post comments that highlight their commitment to religious freedom, fairness, equality and acceptance of all New Yorkers. The petition states, “Say yes to religious freedom, and no to xenophobia and the politics of fear.”

The group also plans on sending the petition over to Mayor Bloomberg’s office to thank him for his vocal position in support of the project.