(CNSNews.com) – The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) on Tuesday called on the U.S. State Department to remove Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf from a taxpayer-funded trip to Muslim countries, citing his controversial views about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
While the State Department has not released a statement on the issue, spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Monday, “I think we are in the process of arranging for him [Rauf] to travel as part of this program. And it is to foster a greater understanding and outreach around the world among Muslim majority communities.”
Crowley also said of Imam Rauf, “He is a distinguished Muslim cleric. We do have a program whereby through our Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau here at the State Department, we send people from Muslim communities here in this country around the world to help people overseas understand our society and the role of religion within our society.”
Imam Rauf is seeking to build an Islamic community center, the Cordoba House, about two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. Imam Rauf is controversial, in part, because two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, he told CBS’ 60 Minutes, “I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened. But the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”
When then asked by CBS’ Ed Bradley in that Sept. 30, 2001 interview to explain “how” America was an accessory to the 9/11 attacks, Imam Rauf said, “Because we have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”
Also, while the U.S. State Department has labeled Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) as a terrorist organization, Imam Rauf apparently has declined to say whether he agrees with that designation.
The trip overseas is sponsored through the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the State Department. Crowley said on Monday that “the itinerary is still being worked” and that Imam Rauf “is by no means the only Muslim religious figure in this country to participate in the program.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said of the apparent trip, “This shows a tremendous lack of judgment on behalf of the State Department and for the American taxpayers to be funding this global journey is not only wrong, but deeply offensive.”
The ACLJ is representing a New York City firefighter who survived the 9-11 attacks and who opposes the construction of the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero.
“It seems with each passing day we learn more disturbing information about this project and the people behind it,” said Sekulow. “We demand that the State Department put a halt to the Imam's participation in this publicly funded trip.”
The ACLJ is planning to file an official letter of protest with the State Department, demanding that the government “cease and desist” in its plans to sponsor Rauf on the trip.
The ACLJ already has filed suit in New York challenging a vote by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), which denied landmark status to the building where the imam wants to build the community center, which many critics view will essentially be a mosque.
The lawsuit, filed last week, charges that the Landmarks Preservation Commission violated the New York City Charter and the New York City Administrative Code.
Among the assertions made in the suit: the Landmarks Commission failed to properly review the record on the issue of landmarks status and to consistently apply administrative precedent; it acted hastily in voting to deny landmark status; and it failed to acknowledge the significance of the site as a historic and hallowed landmark from the attacks of 9/11 that killed 2,985 people.
Below is the transcript from Monday’s press briefing at the State Department concerning the proposed trip and Imam Rauf.
QUESTION: “P.J., there’s a report in Forbes that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, is going on a trip to the Middle East. It’s basically to bring peace – moderation, and peace, and understanding to the region. And the claim by his people is that it’s a U.S. government-supported trip. Do you know or rather is the U.S. Government supporting this trip? And would there be any problem with that in light of the – that this could be used as a fundraising – also simultaneously for fundraising for a controversial project?”
MR. CROWLEY: “He is a distinguished Muslim cleric. We do have a program whereby through our Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau here at the State Department, we send people from Muslim communities here in this country around the world to help people overseas understand our society and the role of religion within our society. I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program. And it is to foster a greater understanding and outreach around the world among Muslim majority communities. But there are strict procedures as to the kind of activity that occurs during the course of this travel. I think this is exactly what we’ve presented it as. And we’ve done this many, many times with many leading figures since – over the past few years.”
QUESTION: “And is it just him and can you give me any guidance to the itinerary or the cost?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the itinerary is still being worked. And he is by no means the only Muslim religious figure in this country to participate in the program.”
QUESTION: “And how about just that last point about whether – there’s been reports in some Arabic language media that he plans to fundraise for the Islamic center and mosque overseas. Might he be –“
MR. CROWLEY: “Again, I will double check. But that would not be something he could do as part of our program.”