GOP Pundit: Obama's Mosque Talk "Dumbest Thing"

President Barack Obama hosts an iftar dinner, the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 13, 2010. For over a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection. Obama emphasized the American tenet of religious freedom just as New York City is immersed in a deeply sensitive debate about whether a mosque should be built near the site of the World Trade Center that was destroyed during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
AP Photo

President Barack Obama's comments supporting the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero have sharply divided the right and the left, with Republican strategists continuing the onslaught Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.

After skirting the controversy for weeks, the president said Friday that a nation built on religious freedom must allow the building of the mosque.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," Obama told a crowd gathered at the White House to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

He weighed his words carefully on Saturday, adding that although Muslims have the right to build a mosque near ground zero, he did not say whether he believes it is a good idea to do so.

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His comments have drawn praise from many liberals, but Republicans and families of 9/11 victims have lashed out at him.

On today's show, Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who was the National Campaign Director for the Reagan-Bush campaign in 1984 and the national campaign chairman for the Mike Huckabee presidential campaign in 2007, even called Obama's comments "probably the dumbest thing that any president has said or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was okay to burn the flag. And it was very similar."

"This is an emotional issue," Rollins said. "Intellectually the president may be right. But this is an emotional issue. People who lost kids, brothers, sisters, fathers, what have you, do not want that mosque in New York."

Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee chairman, also weighed in.

"I thought it was an incredibly revealing comment by the president. You know, he basically said that the 70% of Americans who are opposed to this controversial imam building this controversial mosque at ground zero are seeking to deny the religious freedom of Muslims in this country. That's how he cast it," Gillespie said.

"It was said in the reporting this morning that he made a conscious decision to weigh in on it in that regard. I think it tells you that he has a very disdainful view of the American people. And I think that's one of the reasons his favorability ratings have come down, not just his job approval ratings. People see that in him. There's a kind of a condescension toward Americans that they don't like."

Tim Kaine, the current Democratic National Committee chairman and former governor of Virginia, strongly defended Obama's views.

"I'm going to go with my Virginians, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, on this one. They put the religious freedom - to worship the religion of your choosing - as the first amendment of the constitution for a reason," Kaine said. "This wouldn't be a controversy if it was a proposal to build a synagogue or a church. We don't prefer people and we don't punish people based on their religion. I'm not the New York zoning commissioner, I don't know the reason for the decision, but we can't stop people from doing something that others could do because of the religion they practice."

Watch President Obama's comments:

Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., admitted that the mosque issue is not ideal, but that the constitution must be honored.

"The mosque is an unfortunate situation, but we do have a right to practice our religion freely wherever we choose. Rights are not subject to the popular vote," he said.

"The constitution is the constitution. You know, we see an awful lot of Republicans going out and saying we have to respect the constitution. That means we have to respect it. We can't tarnish people's first amendment rights," Kaine added.

More on the Ground Zero Mosque Debate:

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NYC Panel Clears Way for Ground Zero Mosque
Mosque Plans Ignite Fears in Staten Island