This Sunday is the tenth anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on our country that left nearly 3,000 dead, the great majority of them in the ashes and rubble of the World Trade Center in New York City. As Americans pause on September 11 in mournful remembrance of that dreadful day, many of them will mark the moment with a prayer for the dead, for the loved ones from whom they were taken, and for their country. And such praying would be a normal part of any such commemoration even if the anniversary were not on a Sunday. It’s just what countless Americans do.
But there won’t be any praying at the City of New York’s official anniversary ceremonies this Sunday. At least, there won’t be any voiced at the microphones by invited speakers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to invite no clergy to be speakers at the event. It turns out that this omission of clergy participants has been a normal pattern of annual commemorations of 9/11. But on this tenth anniversary, the decision has finally been noticed, and it has become hugely controversial. According to the Wall Street Journal, the mayor said this week on his radio show, “It’s a civil ceremony. There are plenty of opportunities for people to have their religious ceremonies. . . . Some people don’t want to go to a religious ceremony with another religion. And the number of different religions in this city are [sic] really quite amazing.” He went on to deny the explanation that his own aides had been using to defend his decision — that it would just be “too difficult” to choose among so many faiths for the limited number of clergy who could be invited to speak. No, the mayor said, “It isn’t that you can’t pick and choose, you shouldn’t pick and choose. . . . If you want to have a service for your religion, you can have it in your church or in a field, or whatever.”
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