''The decision has already been made. But we're going to stay on him, and keep exposing his radical ties," Brown said, adding that he and the ACLJ will challenge a landmark status rejection. "The bridge Imam Rauf wants to build is a bridge to Islam, and it's a one-way street."
Publicly, Rauf has expressed confidence that Cordoba House will move forward, noting the quiet but steadfast support from local residents and city officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
''The government should never, never be in the business of telling people how they should pray or where they can pray," Bloomberg told reporters in late July, responding to Sarah Palin and other vocal Republican and Tea Party critics of the project.
Interfaith advocates and religion experts, including Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, author of "God Is Not One," have chimed in, objecting to the emerging arguments: that Cordoba House should not be built near Ground Zero because it will serve as a symbol of Muslim conquest of lower Manhattan, and because Saudi Arabia doesn't allow the construction of churches.
''Since when has Saudi Arabia been the model for American civil liberties?" Prothero asked, in his CNN blog, wondering whether all mosques and other non-Christian houses of worship should therefore be banned, as well. "One of America's core values, inscribed into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is freedom of religion."
But less than 10 years after the attacks, with Ground Zero still under heavy construction and Americans still facing grave threats from Muslim extremists abroad and at home, the wound is far too raw to be talking about tolerance, Brown contends.
''Now is not the right time," he said. "They're telling us that we're against religious freedom? That's backwards. Our friends and families were murdered by these terrorists, who were against religious freedom."
For its part, Masjid Manhattan, crammed into the Warren Street basement, continues to distance itself from the Cordoba House proposal on its website and in conversations. Elazabawy says they would not be interested in moving to the facility, which won't be ready until 2012 at the earliest.
Nodding towards the diverse array of men sitting on the dingy floor — in business suits, track suits and traditional African or Middle Eastern clothing — Elazabawy said his mosque desperately wants more room, but not at the cost of a multi-million dollar facility and at the expense of community relations.
''We need space, because our community is growing," he said. "But we are not with that group. They are just investors, for real estate."
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