New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is under attack for refusing to allow members of the clergy to play a role in the city’s commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Bloomberg insists the ceremonies should focus on the families of those killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. He is also barring political speech. But pastors and politicians are lining up to lambast his decision, reports The Wall Street Journal.
"This is America, and to have a memorial service where there's no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me," said Rudy Washington, a deputy mayor under Bloomberg’s predecessor Rudy Giuliani, who organized a nationally televised interfaith ceremony at Yankee Stadium in the days after the 2001 attacks.
"I feel like America has lost its way," added Washington. “I am very upset about it. This is crazy.”
New York City Council member Fernando Cabrera, a pastor in the Bronx, said faith was one of the “pillars that carried us through” the days after the attacks and called religious leaders “the spiritual and emotional backbone.”
“When you have a situation where people are trying to find meaning, where something is bigger than them, when you have a crisis of this level, they often look to the clergy," added Cabrera, who said excluding religious leaders from the ceremony was "wiping out the recognition of the importance that spirituality plays on that day."
The most prominent religious leader in the city, Roman Catholic archbishop Timothy Dolan, said he would celebrate Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the morning of September 11 and then go to St. Peter’s Church which is a short walk from Ground Zero.
Bloomberg says he wants the tone of the ceremony to be similar to that of previous years where the lack of religious input went largely unnoticed. But because this year marks a decade since the worst attack on American soil and with the presence of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush this year’s event will receive far more notice.
It will also be the first time the ceremony, in which dignitaries will recite poetry and the names of the dead will be read out, has been held at the site of the Twin Towers.
Bloomberg, a Jew, has seemed to take contradictory positions on religion when it comes to matters surrounding 9/11. He has defended the display of religious symbols, including the so-called “World Trade Center Cross,” two steel beams which form a 20 foot tall cross which was discovered in the rubble of the Twin Towers, at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
He has also supported the right of Muslims to build Park51, a 13-story community center two blocks from the site, saying he “shouldn't be in the business of picking" one religion over another.
“I think it's fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming," Bloomberg said. "The fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it, too."
The mayor’s spokeswoman Evelyn Erskine defended the decision not to invite religious leaders to speak. "There are hundreds of important people that have offered to participate over the last nine years, but the focus remains on the families of the thousands who died on Sept. 11," she said.