NIAGARA FALLS, NY
Like many others Wednesday night Todd Schoepflin attending a panel discussion at Niagara University on a controversial project to build an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away from Ground Zero.
"Today I just want to hear what some informed people have to say on this matter," said Schoepflin.
And that is panelist Othman Shibly's main goal, to clear up what he feels is public misinformation about the mosque. Shibly sits on the board of the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier. He claims people do not even realize the mosque in question is already up and running.
"It's not that they are building the mosque, the mosque is there! I want you to understand the mosque is there...it's functioning for more than one year," said Shibly.
The plan is to expand the mosque, turning it into a community center with a fitness center, library, muslim prayer space, and even a September 11th memorial.
"It's a clear issue of religious freedom and they should have every right to the center, but as an American you have to wonder about, is the wound healed enough? You know, and it was a tremendous wound in our psyche," said Dr. Peter Baxter, Associate Professor of Political Science at Niagara University.
"There's already a religious community, Islamic community there so why is it so important to have an actual set building place of worship in that area when you can worship anywhere, you don't have to be in a select building," said Reta Jabar, a student panelist.
Many argue the issue has become politicized with people for or against the plan deciding strongly along party lines. Conservative gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino is against the plan, promising to block construction by seizing the land through eminent domain if he is elected. When questioned on the same subject Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo emphasized the fact that this country was founded on religous freedom.
For now founders of the mosque project are working on finalizing design plans. No word yet on an expected groundbreaking date.