Zakaria, also a Newsweek columnist, had received the Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize in 2005.
In a public letter to Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, issued last Friday, Zakaria said, "I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both. I hope that it might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue. This decision will haunt the ADL for years if not decades to come.
"Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain your reputation."
ADL issued a statement late last month decrying the bigotry surrounding the proposed construction of a Muslim center near the former World Trade Center, but opposing the construction out of sensitivity to the families of those killed on 9/11.
In a unanimous vote Aug. 3, the New York City Landmarks Commission denied landmark status to the building at the site, clearing the way for the construction project that will include a Muslim cultural center and mosque.
"I am not only saddened but stunned and somewhat speechless by your decision to return the ADL Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize you accepted in 2005,” Foxman wrote in a letter responding to Zakaria.
Foxman said he hoped that Zakaria “will come to see that ADL acted appropriately” and would reclaim his award.