The controversy over a proposed mosque near ground zero has become a national political issue, expanding its reach into individual U.S. House races far from Lower Manhattan in every conceivable way: for example, Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District.
Republican former state Rep. Kevin Calvey, who faces a runoff against James Lankford on Tuesday, injected the issue into the race for the Oklahoma City-area seat currently held by Rep. Mary Fallin, a Republican.
Mr. Calvey called the plans to build a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site “grossly inappropriate” and “a message to terrorists that they’ve won.”
Mr. Lankford also denounced the mosque in an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times, saying, “I cannot imagine the Japanese building a Shinto shrine at the entrance to Pearl Harbor.”
“There are appropriate and inappropriate places to build an Islamic mosque, this is not” an appropriate one, he said.
But Billy Coyle, who won the Democratic primary and will face Mr. Calvey or Mr. Langford in November, said that while it was “a terrible decision” to build the mosque and that “Muslim people should be more sensitive,” it should not be an issue for politicians across the nation.
“I can’t believe we’re even arguing about this,” he told The Times on Wednesday, elaborating that he considered the issue one for New Yorkers to decide. “Why should Billy Coyle, running for Congress in Oklahoma, have an opinion about a New York matter?”
The Park51 mosque also has found its way into congressional races in Illinois, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and elsewhere in the week since President Obama pushed the issue onto the national front pages by telling a White House Ramadan gathering that freedom of religion “includes the right to build” religious centers “in Lower Manhattan.”
“I have no idea why he would do that,” Mr. Coyle said, explaining that Mr. Obama “is definitely not well-liked out here in Oklahoma” and that his speaking publicly on a Muslim-related matter simply encourages, among other things, false or conspiratorial speculation about his religion.
“He’s taken a lot of hits about being Muslim or supporting Muslims,” he said, and his nationalizing the issue “fuels the fire and a lot of people are upset by it.”
Mr. Lankford said this is why the mosque is an appropriate national issue it fits what he called a pattern of Mr. Obama advancing Muslim interests. Mr. Obama’s involvement “is his natural push anyway to encourage America to be open to Islam something he said he wanted” in his speech to the Muslim world last year in Cairo, the Oklahoman said.
“That particular mosque is a New York issue, but the issue of the advance of Islam in America and how we handle it is an American issue,” said Mr. Lankford, asserting that Islam is “not just a religion, it’s also a political and military” system that aims to displace liberal democracy.
“Islam is unique among major world religions in that part of its teaching is to get into government and make Shariah [codes into] the law” of the nation, he concluded.