The 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks has triggered painful memories, grief and intense reflection. In addition to these natural reactions, it has also sparked a fierce battle over faith and prayer during this year's memorial remembrance.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision not to invite clergy to this year's commemorative event is at the root of some fairly intense debate. In addition to excluding clergy, the mayor has also decided not to invite first responders -- yet another action that has sparked a great deal of controversy.
According to Bloomberg, it is most prudent to focus upon the victims and their families as the nation marks 10 years since the nation's most horrific terror attack occurred. His administration has made the claim -- and a correct one at that -- that clergy have never been invited to participate in the official event. Thus, in his view, this year's remembrance is no different.
While some would agree with Bloomberg that faith and religion shouldn't play a part in the official ceremony, others contend that refusing to include religious leaders is insensitive. Plus, there's the additional fact that the 10-year anniversary is a milestone of sorts -- one that some believe should be observed by including religious leaders in the mix.
For many people, faith -- regardless of which particular religion they subscribe to -- was an important element in peoples' ability to cope in the wake of the attacks. So, critique of Bloomberg's decision has been both harsh and plentiful.
The announcement drew particular outrage from Rudy Washington, who served as deputy mayor under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and who organized an interfaith service at Yankee Stadium following the attacks back in 2001. He told the Wall Street Journal the following:
“This is America, and to have a memorial service where there’s no prayer, this appear to be insanity to me. I feel like America has lost its way.”
But Washington's not alone. On Thursday, The Christian Post reported that the Family Research Council, a conservative family values group and Democratic NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera had teamed up to petition Bloomberg to change his mind on the clergy, prayer and first-responders ban.
The two parties have apparently collected more than 62,000 signatures asking to mayor to allow these groups to participate. At a press conference also held on Thursday Senior FRC Legal Studies Fellow Cathy Ruse said:
"Perhaps for Mayor Bloomberg, God and faith do not mean much, but it is exceedingly tone deaf not to recognize their importance to most Americans."
And as we reported earlier this week, Giuliani joins these forces in disagreeing with the decision to exclude faith and clergy. During a recent speech he joked that the microphones won't melt if religious leaders are invited to participate. Watch his remarks, below:
Giuliani's track record on including clergy -- whether right or wrong in nature -- in 9/11 events speaks for itself. Only 12 days after the Twin Towers were destroyed, the former mayor held a memorial service called "Prayer for America." Similar faith-based services were held, as the Post reports, by House and Senate chaplains in Washington, D.C. following the attack on the Pentagon.
New York City-based Christian leader Pastor Rick Del Rio shared his views on the clergy ban in an exclusive interview with The Blaze. Del Rio, who arrived at Ground Zero just minutes after the second tower collapsed, was an instrumental force in the days and months following the attacks.
He co-convened the Northeast Clergy Group / Ground Zero Clergy Task Force (NEC), an interdenominational coalition of regional ministers who counseled workers at Ground Zero and assisted in relief efforts. This year, his church is hosting an alternative prayer event called Reaching Out New York City on Saturday (the day before the anniversary). Below, see the trailer for Reaching Out:
Del Rio explained his frustrations with Bloomberg's refusal to include clergy in this year's 9/11 tribute:
"I think the 10th anniversary is such a milestone. We should have gone to great measures to include all those who participated. I think it’s an affront to all those who are clergy or first responders who were [down there after 9/11].
It’s ridiculous. Its almost like [Bloomberg's] trying to re-write history. These were components that were invaluable to bringing the city back together."
These components he's referring to are faith and religious leaders -- two pillars for many in the wake of the attacks. Del Rio went on to explain the notion that the tragedy caused people to flood back to God. Additionally, he explained the positive presence that clergy had at Ground Zero:
"[The workers] said to me 'father we’re just thankful that you're here. We’d like to see more [pastors] here.' It was the presence of a godly person -- maybe even the presence of religion...the ability to pray [with them] was something that brought comfort in a time of such great turmoil."
Of course, some would respond by explaining that this weekend's event is for the public and that religion has no place intermixing government. These individuals would more readily align themselves with Bloomberg, as he attempts to hold a more secular commemorative event that is completely devoid of religious over or undertones.
What do you think? Should clergy be invited to participate in the memorial event at Ground Zero? Take our poll: