President Barack Obama has come out in favour of allowing a mosque to be built near the site of the former World Trade Centre in New York, which was destroyed nine years ago by terrorists in hijacked aircraft.
Mr Obama said Muslims have the same right to follow their religion as anyone else. He said that includes the right to build a place of worship on private property in lower Manhattan.
The president made his remarks at an Iftar dinner at the White House celebrating the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
In doing so he waded into a national controversy that has sparked passionate and at times angry debate.
The site is near where almost 3,000 people died on September 11 2001 after Muslim hijackers flew two planes into the centre's twin towers, which crumbled as New Yorkers fled in terror.
"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," Mr Obama said.
"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," he said.
"This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."