President Obama today offered his most extensive public comments to date on the so-called "Ground-Zero mosque" at his first press conference in months. Asked about the wisdom of building a Muslim community center and mosque a few blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center, as the Cordoba Initiative plans to do, Obama didn't answer the question directly.

But he did give a passionate explanation of why it's wrong to criticize the plans to put a mosque there, citing the Muslim citizens of America and the Muslim Americans serving abroad in the U.S. military. The president asked: "When we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?"

Here's his full response to the question:

I think I've been pretty clear on my opinion here, and that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal--that they have cert inalenienable rights. One of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely, and what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.

Now, I recognize the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11. You know, I've met with families of 9/11 victims in the past. I can only imagine the continuing pain and anguish and sense of loss that they go through and tomorrow we as Americans are going to be joining them in prayer and remembrance. But I go back to what I said earlier: We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their .. acts, and we've gotta be clear about that. We've gotta be clear about that because if we're going to deal with the problems ... reduce the terrorist threat, then we need all the allies we can get.

The folks who are most interested in a war between the United States or the West and Islam are al Qaeda. That's what they've been banking on, and for the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world are peace loving, are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in: how can I make sure that I can get a good [job], how can I make sure that my kids get an education, how can I make sure that I'm safe, how can I improve my lot in life?

And so they have rejected this violent ideology for the most part overwhelmingly. So from a national security interest, we want to be clear about who the enemy is here. It's a tiny minority of people who ware engaged in horrific acts and have killed Muslims more than anybody else.

The other reason it's important for us to remember, that is we've got millions of Muslim this country. They're going to school with our kids. They're our neighbors. They're our friends. They're our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them? I've got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the Unites States armed services. They're out there putting their lives on the line for us and we've gotta make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes. They are Americans, and we honor their service, and part of honoring their service is making sure they understand that we don't differentiate between them and us. It's just us. And that is a principle that I think is going to be very important for us to sustain, and I think tomorrow is an excellent time for us to reflect on that.

During an event honoring Ramadan at the White House in August, Obama voiced support for the Cordoba Initiative's right to build a mosque. After his comments were taken as a general endorsement of the project, he soon walked them back a bit, clarifying that he had only commented on the group's constitutional right to build it. that the constitutional right to build it.

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