Panama City -- The controversy surrounding whether or not an Islamic center and mosque should be built five blocks from ground zero in Manhattan became a local issue Tuesday. The topic came up at a candidate forum hosted by News Channel 7 and North Bay Haven charter school.
Local school students formulated and asked all of the questions, including this one to republican congressional candidate Ron McNeil.
"What is your stance on the proposed mosque at ground zero in New York City?," asked Arnold High School student, Wesley Bush.
"I'm totally against it. If I had my way it'd be pretty much over my dead body to build a mosque there. The Muslims will have that place to gloat about for years if they get their way and it was the Muslim religion that caused the problems we had on 911. It was extremist. It probably didn't represent their exact religion but the very fact they want to build something right there in the shadows of ground zero is ridiculous," replied Ron McNeil.
Neither the students nor McNeil wanted to leave it at that. A second student, Doug Reed, challenged McNeil’s previous statement.
"What gives you the right or the federal government the right to tell Americans that they cannot build a institution or building in a certain place?," asked Reed.
"That religion is against everything America stands for. The freedom and liberty and if you girls who are out here were Muslims today you don't have the rights that you have as American citizens and Christians. You've got a separate religion and it's plan is to destroy our way of life and our lives then you've got to think differently about it. If we have to, by law let them build that thing there, make them build it nine stories underground," said McNeil.
Shocked, Reed, countered McNeil.
"Where is it our place to tell them that they're wrong and that their religion is bad. It's not our place as Christians, I believe," said Reed.
"It's our place as Christians to stand up for the word of God and what the bible says," McNeil replied.
Bay County Islamic Society spokesperson, Hashem Mubarak, says McNeil is very misinformed.
"If we're going to say hateful statements, inflammatory statements for political reasons, this is wrong and this is actually against the American values. Christianity actually is for love and understanding and he does not apparently represent that with what he said," said Mubarek.
Mubarek says this situation is an example of politicians play politics with religion.
"I really demand that Mr. McNeil make an apology of what he said or we would be happy to discuss with him and have a dialogue and maybe educate him," said Mubarek.
Ron McNeil is one of 5 republicans running for their party's nomination. Democrat incumbent Allen Boyd is facing his own challenges for re-nomination.