[artist id="1161224"]Russell Simmons[/artist] is making his stance on a planned mosque near New York City's Ground Zero site well-known. The hip-hop mogul has spelled out the word "coexist" on the windows of his downtown apartment, which is near the location where a Muslim community center named Park51 — which according to the center's website includes a mosque — is slated to be established.
Several black-and-white signs emblazoned with symbols of faith, such as the Christian cross, the Star of David and the peace sign, spell out Simmons' message of religious pluralism. According to an article posted on Simmons' Global Grind website, the mogul worked with artist Glen E. Friedman to conceive the installation.
"I was trying to figure out ways I could reach people and promote a message of tolerance," Simmons told The Associated Press on Wednesday (August 25). "The fact that it is a public discussion, that there's so many against it is what I think is disappointing to me, that so many people don't know that we founded our country on the First Amendment."
The proposed center has sparked controversy and protests because of the community center's proximity to Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center skyscrapers that were decimated in the September 11 attacks once stood. Opponents of the center, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, insist building a mosque so close to the location is inappropriate. Supporters of Park51, which include President Obama, say that religious freedoms extend to all Americans and must be defended.
In response to those opposed to Park51, Simmons said the future of the community center is not just an issue for Muslims.
"It's for Jews, it's for Christians, it's for African-Americans and other non-Muslims to stand up and protect the rights of the Muslims involved in this debate," Simmons said. "It's an American principle, it should offend every American."
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