* Transit authority relented after group filed lawsuit
* 53 pct of New Yorkers oppose mosque near Sept. 11 site
By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK, Aug 10 Anti-mosque advertisements
depicting a plane about to crash into a flaming World Trade
Center will soon be displayed on New York City buses after the
transit authority relented and agreed to the ads.
The display asking "Why There?" is the latest attempt by
opponents to block the proposed Cordoba House Islamic community
center two blocks from the site of the attacks of Sept. 11,
2001, carried out by the militant Muslim group al Qaeda.
The ads will begin appearing on New York City buses as soon
as next week after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
(MTA) approved them on Monday, an MTA spokesman said.
The proposed Islamic center has generated emotional
opposition from some New Yorkers who see the project as an
offense to the approximately 2,750 people who died nearby when
suicide hijackers slammed planes into the Twin Towers.
The controversy grew on Monday when the U.S. State
Department confirmed it was paying for the for the imam behind
the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, to travel the Middle East as
part of a U.S.-backed educational and cultural program, calling
him a "distinguished cleric."
Fifty-three percent of New Yorkers oppose building the
Islamic community center and prayer space next to "Ground
Zero," according to a Marist Poll issued on Tuesday, versus 34
percent favor its development.
The same poll found Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a vocal
supporter of the mosque, fell below a 50 percent approval
rating for the first time in five years, though not necessarily
because of the mosque issue.
"The mosque issue is not doing him any good, but those who
are most opposed are Republicans and that's a group that has
not deserted the mayor," said Lee Miringoff, director of the
Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
Opponents of the mosque lost the most important battle last
week when New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission refused
to grant an existing building at the site historic protection,
allowing it to be destroyed so that the 13-story Muslim
cultural complex can be built.
After the landmarks ruling, Bloomberg said "a handful of
people ought to be ashamed of themselves" for opposing it.
"That sent a very clear message to individuals who take
their marching orders from the Bloomberg administration. The
MTA was simply acting in lock step," said David Yerushalmi, the
lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative had bought
advertising space on 26 buses for a month at a cost of $8,000,
an MTA spokesman said.
On Friday the group sued in federal court, saying the
transit authority was violating their free speech rights by
denying their ads and by asking them to first remove the image
of the plane and then to remove the flames from the artwork.
The MTA agreed to run the original ad.
"While the MTA does not endorse the views expressed in this
or other ads that appear on the transit system, the
advertisement purchased by a group opposing a planned mosque
near the World Trade Center was accepted today (Monday) after
its review under MTA's advertising guidelines and governing
legal standards," the MTA said in a statement.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Vicki Allen)