On clergy being excluded from Ground Zero: "New York is the epicenter of secularism"

The simmering dispute over clergy being omitted from Sunday’s ceremonies at Ground Zero has finally landed on the pages of the New York Times, which provides some interesting comment and context:

The second Sunday after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, New York clergy members of many faiths joined elected officials at Yankee Stadium in a city-sponsored memorial ceremony that melded the sacred and the secular, replete with flags, prayers and tears.

Ten years later, any consensus that existed about the appropriate role of religion in public ceremonies marking a monumental American trauma has fallen apart.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has come under attack by some religious and political leaders for not including clergy members as speakers at Sunday’s official ceremony at ground zero on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in an interview that the planned ceremony only proved that New York was the “epicenter of secularism,” out of step with the rest of America.

“We’re not France,” he said. “Mr. Bloomberg is pretending we’re a secular society, and we are not.”

Congressman Randy Forbes, a Republican representative from Virginia and a co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, sent Mr. Bloomberg a letter on behalf of the caucus members urging him to include prayer in the ceremony.

At the same time, some evangelical Christian leaders said they were outraged that an interfaith prayer service planned by the Washington National Cathedral did not include a Southern Baptist or other evangelical minister.

“In miniature, this is what’s happening to the whole country,” said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. “9/11 was this moment that we came together, and it lasted about three-and-a-half minutes. The country went from a brief moment of something like unity, to complete Balkanization, and now we’re seeing it in religion and in politics, like in everything else.”

In a nation of unprecedented religious diversity, the United States once managed to navigate religion in public life with relatively generic acknowledgments of the sacred — a tradition often referred to as civil religion.

Ten years ago, the event at Yankee Stadium and a prayer service at Washington National Cathedral attended by President George W. Bush were conducted in that tradition, and they were held with no controversy to speak of. But now, Professor Wolfe said, “the civil religion, those informal kinds of agreements, can’t work if everyone is going to be litigious.”

Check out more.

And Fr. James Martin notes:

Excluding clergy from the official public memory of the day is almost willfully ahistorical.  The clergy were a significant part of the events surrounding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, particularly in New York.  To begin with, they were among the first groups to respond to the disaster at Ground Zero, with priests, ministers and rabbis on the ground from the earliest days.  (By the time I arrived on Sept. 13, there were already several who told me that they had been ministering there since the 11th.)  Members of the clergy presided over thousands of funerals and memorial services, a ministry especially evident in the case of the many firefighters and police officers whose funerals were celebrated in scores of Catholic churches throughout the archdioces of New York.  Clergy from a variety of traditions provided guidance, comfort and solace for those seeking answers in the face of the death of loved ones, or simply in the face of tragedy.  Religious organizations spearheaded charitable efforts both in New York and elswewhere.  But most of all, the witness of the clergy on that day was embodied by Fr. Mychal Judge, O.F.M., who sacrificed his life in service to others.  Fr. Judge, the Franciscan priest and New York City fire chaplain who was killed after racing into one of the burning towers to minister to firefighters, is listed as the first official casualty of the attacks on the World Trade Center: “Victim 0001.”  Surely his public sacrifice warrants remembering the place of clergy–publicly.

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22 responses to “On clergy being excluded from Ground Zero: "New York is the epicenter of secularism"”

  1. I wish the clergy of all the faiths represented in NY had come together for an alternate ceremony, invited all the firefighters and police to come, and left the politicians to their secular political function. Or just opened up their doors to their synagogues, mosques and churches and had alternative services there at the the same time.

    Better to do something about it than just complain about it.

  2. “Surely his public sacrifice warrants remembering the place of clergy–publicly.” – Fr. James Martin

    Fr. Judge’s sacrifice WILL be remembered. His name will be read aloud along with the names of all the other victims.

    Perhaps, this is the way that Fr. Judge would want to be remembered.

  3. For me a voice of reason in comment #31, New York Times web edition:

    Brooklyn, NY
    September 9th, 2011
    9:33 am

    I am going to a special 9/11 Mass this Sunday. Those wishing to have prayer and worship to honor the victims, their families and our dear country may do the same.

  4. To each his own—prayers can be done at any religious institution- on that day—or at home or anywhere a person of faith want to do so—privately or publicly. IMO this whole thing is much ado about nothing. There will be services and remembrances in many, many places on that day, not just at the site.

  5. My understanding is that it is what the families want. Instead of making a big deal about it, why don’t we just honor the wishes of the people most affected, and let it go. I will be offering my Sunday Mass on 9/11 for the repose of the souls of the victims, and for their families and friends.

  6. Something could have been worked out to bring everyone together and I have read a number of feasible suggestions that religious people of good will would have rallied around. Good, instead of narrow-minded, leadership is what was called for. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg was apparently very lacking in one of the most important leadership skills needed in a diverse, pluralistic society-the ability to unite people. I hate to think it was also a case of secularist bullying as is becoming more common in America.

  7. I’m with Shana. I suggested on the last post related to this topic that St. Pat’s have Mass, open to all, and all of the Catholic Churches in NYC ring their bells.

    It’s all well and good if some of the familes don’t want anything religious, but at least offer the ones that do, the opportunity.

    I’m disappointed in both Guilani and Dolan, who were the two men of NY who could have made this happen. Last time I checked, the Catholic Church in NYC still had freedom of religion rights.

    I suspect they are having a mass, but having it at the same time would have sent I think, a beautiful message on the 10 year anniversary. The secularists might have power over who can be at ground zero, but have absolutely no power on who and when any of us can pray or honor our dead.

  8. This is as if no pastor were allowed to speak at the ceremony for the dead at Gettysburg. Yes there were pastors there.

    Mayor bloomberg is through in my book. This was the last straw in a series of huge disappointments. And Bishop Dolan’s silence on this and the gay marriage issue has really irked me too. I’m not happy with any leadership in any institution these days.

  9. If clergy are going to continue using things like 9/11 as a platform for whining and culture war axe-grinding, I hope we do become a secular society, and soon.

  10. @ kenneth

    IMOP we are in an increasing secular age ! according to Charles Taylor : A Secular Age , our day is a day in which
    ” God’s presence receded ” from the stage of history and events. The ” mystery of lawlessnes ” is already at work !.
    An age of ” flight from GOD “.

  11. There is little to debate that New York City is the center of secularism in the United States. It is more than that. It is anti-religion. The public expression of faith is omitted from “official” 9/11 ceremonies not because the victims’ families did not want it (What an absurd statement) but because Bloomberg did not want it. He fundamentally is anti-religion. He has staked out the ceremonies for families and politicians. Do the families really want the politicians?

    (Archbishop Dolan was silent on gay marriage? Just where has Manny been?)

  12. Kenneth–maybe you’ve forgotten, but right after 9-11 in Yankee Stadium all the religions –including moslems and their imams–held a great religious service. And soon after, in Washington, a religious service involving all religions was held in the Episcopal National Cathedral.
    The problem now is a narrow-minded secularist politician who does not have the skill or talent to bring people together at a time it is sorely needed in our pluralistic society. And sure enough some people blame religions for the sorry situation created by this glaringly incompetent (or bigoted) mayor.

  13. With all due respect Deacon Bresnahan ( and I am saying that with a sincere heart),

    Mayor Bloomberg has made a decision that you do not agree with.

    Isn’t that enough?

  14. HMS—The problem is that if religious people roll over and just let it slide without a vigorous, strong complaint –then politicians like Bloomberg will feel emboldened to keep throwing religious people under the bus. Also, it will say that even we religious people agree that there is nothing to be gained spiritually from a religious presence and prayers–OR that religious people uncharitably and callously don’t care that others receive that spiritual benefit.

  15. Deacon:

    Perhaps I was too subtle. I was not responding to your legitimate protest.

    I was commenting on your words:

    “NARROW-MINDED SECULARIST politician who does not have the skill or talent to bring people together at a time it is sorely needed in our pluralistic society”

    “glaringly INCOMPETENT (or BIGOTED) mayor”

    That to me is not necessary, over the top, uncalled for, and a few other words that may or may not be related to the eighth commandment.

    As an aside, I am depending on Mayor Bloomberg’s competence (about which I have no reservations) to keep this city safe during these next few days. My son lives in Manhattan just a few miles from Ground Zero.

  16. Dcn. John #14) you hit the nail on the head. That was the main point I hoped to make, in this post and the last one.

    If we don’t nip it in the bud right now, it will be too late, and for sure things will only go downhill from there, as this will be the new “standard.”

    I can understand that Dolan might not want to get into the political fight, but I can’t understand why he did just schedule a mass and invite everyone and anyone who wanted to attend, regadless of what the secularists were doing.

  17. HMS–No reservations???? at all about his handling of a situation that could have been handled so very far much better.
    And the words I used were not meant to be insulting or name-calling, but accurate descriptives of how poorly he handled the situation. In a pluralistic society we rely on our political leaders to be peacemakers-to bring people together–not divide by telling whole communities’ leaders to get lost.
    And considering one of the leading heroes who died there and whose picture in death became one of the leading icons of that day was a clergyman and clergymen now are told they are not welcome has got to be at least a case of the mayor being oblivious to the import of his actions.

  18. @Mike Andrews #11
    “Archbishop Dolan was silent on gay marriage? Just where has Manny been?”

    Ok, he wasn’t completely silent. But his opposition was half hearted if even that much. It was completely tepid and weak and he was even out of town when the vote occurred. Did he even have a homily in Church on ity? I didn’t hear. A strong voice by the Bishop could have turned a politician or two. Sorry, his lack of strong support was a huge disappointment.

  19. #18 deaconjohnmbresnahan

    “HMS–No reservations???? at all about his handling of a situation that could have been handled so very far much better.”

    Deacon, I need to clarify that I was referring to Mayor Bloomberg’s competence in keeping the city safe, not his decision about the ceremony at Ground Zero tomorrow.

    Since there is credible information about potential terrorism in the city, I hope and pray that my confidence in him in that area is not misplaced.

    Right now, I want to focus my energies on the issues presented in the Scripture readings for tomorrow’s Mass and the inspirational thoughts in the homily that has just been posted on this blog.

  20. As I was listening to NPR’s coverage of the events of today, it seems I turned the radio on just in time for a “moment of silence”. Also heard President Obama read a passage from the Bible—just what were folks so upset about? For those that wanted faith (President Obama’s reading) and a moment for those OF faith to pray—the moment of silence to remember (and/or pray). I turned off the radio then and didn’t resume watching TV coverage. Watched one show that relived the events—that was enough. No one will forget but continuing to show the towers fall and all the other things that happened in DC and PA is not going to bring anyone back. Were that it was possible.

  21. I have been watching and will continue to watch the entire program on C-Span (no commentary), because I just have to. (I have a distant relative, who was killed with the Cantor Fitzgerald employees and I heard his name read.)

    What else I am hearing are some of the finest expressions of faith and love that I have ever heard – by the name readers. (Where there’s love, there’s God.)

    I doubt that any cleric or religious leader of any religion could give a more consoling or inspirational prayer.

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