Prayers, clergy missing from 9/11 event

Get ready to start thinking about the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 if you haven’t already. NPR is one of many outlets preparing to tell you all about it, starting coverage on September 5. Of course, we’ll be interested in the percentage and the quality of religion news that comes out of it.

Usually I’m not a huge fan of covering anniversaries since they are fairly obvious (read: easy for reporters) and 10 years seems like an arbitrary number. However, journalists could often pause more to give a little bit of context and perspective from the past and anniversaries often give them an excuse to do that. We have seen a few interesting religion items come up in the last week or so that we will be interested to see how they play out.

The first item that caught my attention was Eric Marrapodi’s story for CNN on how clergy and formal prayers will not be included in the 9/11 service.

“The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature,” Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in an e-mail to CNN.

“It has been widely supported for the past 10 years and rather than have disagreements over which religious leaders participate we would like to keep the focus of our commemoration ceremony on the family members of those who died.”

I can imagine that much of New York’s attention has been diverted by Hurricane Irene, but this sounds pretty interesting to me. The piece follows some coverage from the Wall Street Journal on how clergy in New York seem surprised by the decision. The CNN piece offers some rationale from Mayor Bloomberg.

“This cannot be political,” Bloomberg told the radio audience. “That’s why there’s a poem or a quote or something that each one of the readers will read.” He added there would be “no speeches whatsoever.”

While he was talking about which officials would attend, he noted, “There’s an awful lot of people that would like to participate but you just can’t do that, once you open it up. So the argument here is it’s elected officials and those who were there at the time and had some influence.”

I find it slightly ironic that Bloomberg says that the event cannot be political when political officials are the ones leading it. The piece does a nice job of putting the ceremony in context of what officials have done at previous anniversaries.

There have been 10 ceremonies at ground zero in New York to pause and remember the events of 9/11, one six months after the attack and on September 11 each following year.

Spirituality and religion have been reserved for the moments of silence in those events.

As much as Bloomberg would like to keep anniversary events from becoming political, it’s almost inevitable because that tends to be media outlet’s emphasis. In contrast to this news item, President Obama plans to attend an interfaith prayer service at Washington National Cathedral the evening of 9/11. Of course, it’ll be interesting to see who is invited and what is said.

The challenge for reporters is to find a way to cover 9/11 anniversary angles in fresh and interesting ways, and that includes not just covering the official schedule. ReligionLink offers a few ideas for reporters, and let us know if you find angles that stand out this early on.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly

  • SDG

    This isn’t just another anniversary ceremony. This is the dedication. To exclude prayer or participation by clergy or religious leaders at the dedication ceremony is an act of shocking hostility to human sensibilities.

    Excluding prayer is a blatantly political act — far more so than permitting it, which would ordinarily be the default.

    I find it slightly ironic that Bloomberg says that the event cannot be political when political officials are the ones leading it.

    Nicely said.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    I’ve deleted a few comments unrelated to journalism. Sorry, this is not the place to discussion your feelings about various religions. We’re talking about coverage. Thanks.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Ironic–the person named first on the official list of victims is a clergyman and fire chaplain–Father Judge. Him being carried out of the dust and rubble by his brother first responders was one of the earliest and most dramatic photos of that tragic day.
    But now politicians will be front and center and Father Judge’s fellow clergy have basically been told to get lost. I wonder how the media will play this story. Will they even mention the case of Father Judge and the insult to his sacrifice and memory???

  • Christopher Gudger-Raines

    First of all, thank you for pointing to the Interfaith Ceremony the evening of 9/11. This is the first I’ve heard about it.

    Also, I wrote a response on my blog about why clergy should be invited to the ground zero ceremony. This response was prompted by the CNN story.

    **I realize that this comment has little to do with coverage. I understand if you need to delete it.**

  • Jerry

    I know the media will be focused on Ground Zero, but I think local events should also be a focus for coverage. I became aware of the following and in my neck of the woods. There was even some media coverage:

    I’d love to see a national media outlet pick up the idea and highlight representative local events.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I like that the CNN story includes information on the NYPD observance, which will include communal prayer. I tried to search the NYT site for information on other observances, but couldn’t find the search function. A google search didn’t find much, either, at least in New York. Someone better at it than me might have better luck, but it would be interesting to collect the various religious observances from the various traditions.

  • Karen

    There is more than one NYC observance, which probably ought to have been included in the article. I am participating in one, sponsored by churches, synagogues and cultural institutions and I have received notice of others. So while the observance reported upon will not have clergy (I assume due to fear of the response of including Muslim clergy) the totality of observances will certainly include prayer.

  • Cathy G.

    I find it slightly ironic that Bloomberg says that the event cannot be political when political officials are the ones leading it

    I took his use of “political” to mean “partisan.” Maybe a reporter should follow up?

  • Eric Shafer

    In response to comments (not to the article), Prepare New York – – has pulled together information on all of the NYC area 9/11 tenth anniversary events and activities we can find.

  • Larry “the grump” Rasczak

    So, a commemoration but with no prayer, no speeches, no benediction, nothing political or religious or anything that ANYONE might find offensive… pretty much an event designed to be as free from anything actually meaningful (much less inspiring) as possible.

    They will still be mentioning that whole World Trade Center attack thing I assume? At least in passing. I mean you wouldn’t want someone to wander in and think they were at commemoration of Henry Hudson discovering Manhattan (Sept. 11 1609) or the 9/11/1978 premier of the original Battlestar Galactica.