(Posted September 20, 2010)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Two Juniata College student groups plan to hold a panel discussion on the proposed Islamic community and education center in New York City that is roughly two blocks from the site where the World Trade Center buildings stood, focusing on education and discussion of the issues around the planned building at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 22 in Alumni Hall in Brumbaugh Academic Center on the Juniata campus.

The panel discussion is free and open to the public.

The panel discussion is sponsored by the Juniata College Democrats student club and the Muslim Students Association, another student club. The panel will be moderated by David Witkovsky, chaplain at Juniata.

The center, called the "Ground Zero Mosque" in the press and by conservative political commentators, includes a mosque in its central design. The building plan also features a 500-seat auditorium, a theater/performing arts space, bookstore, culinary school, food court and a Sept. 11 memorial.

"If our government is allowed to limit the practice of one religion, what is to keep them from later preventing my religion from practicing our faith when it serves the purpose of the government to do so," Witkovsky says. "For example, the Church of the Brethren has been a pacifist religion throughout its history. What if the government suddenly decided that it's 'not American' to refuse to serve in the military? People of faith, especially those in the majority, need to show support and concern for those in the minority, in order to protect the rights that were given to all of us in the U.S. Constitution."

The discussion will feature students from each organization making a 10- to 15-minute presentation and then opening the floor to discussions and questions. The Juniata Democrats Club presentation will be made by Zach Gordon, a senior studying politics from Wilmington, Del. The Muslim Students Association presentation will be made by Tarek Al-Maghrabi, a freshman from York, Pa., and Razma Qadir, an international student from Kabul, Afghanistan and president of the Muslim Student Association.

"I believe America is the land of freedom and has always stood up for the protection of human rights, bringing peace and protecting the victims of hatred and prejudice," says Qadir. "This mosque or community center will help to remove the gap between Muslims and other faiths. America will be America only when it protects its people's constitutional rights without any discrimination based on sex, language, race, color or religion."

"The only way an Islamic community center near Ground Zero is offensive to anyone is if they believe that Islam was responsible for the tragic 9/11 attacks," says Gordon.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.