Published: Aug 18, 2010 5:33 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 18, 2010 2:34 PM EDT

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) - A Republican U.S. House candidate in the Florida Panhandle has told a group of middle and high school students that Islam "is against everything America stands for."

Some applauded after Ron McNeil's comment Tuesday at a candidate forum for students in Panama City, but one student challenged McNeil's comments.

McNeil then said Islam's "plan is to destroy our way of life."

The exchange began when McNeil voiced opposition to a proposed Islamic center, including a mosque, two blocks from the World Trade Center site.

McNeil said if it's built, it should be "nine stories underground, so we can walk above it as citizens and Christians."

McNeil is one of five Republicans vying to challenge Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd.