Keep Government Out of Worship Planning for 9/11 or Anytime

Keep Government Out of Worship Planning for 9/11 or Anytime September 8, 2011

CNN reports that, “Progressive Christians Join Controversy over Excluding Clergy at 9/11 Event.” In contrast, while I consider myself a Progressive Christian, I applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s courageous stance for the separation of church and state.

According to Sojourners, one of the Progressive Christian organizations interviewed for the article,

Mayor Bloomberg made an understandable but regrettable decision. Religion, and religious leaders, have caused a lot of unnecessary conflict and controversy. But avoiding religion entirely does not get to the root of the problem. The answer is better religion.

I am a supporter of better, healthier religion, but the qualifier “better” raises the question of “Better according to whom?” And there is no noncircular justification for one’s answer to such a question. For some Christian fundamentalists, “better” religion might mean only the pastor of their particular church (and no one else) is qualified to pray at the 9/11 memorial. For some secular humanists, any prayer at a civic event is a violation of their right not to have religion imposed on them.

As the situation currently stands, there will be no prayer at the government-sponsored 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero. There will be prayer at the privately-sponsored 9/11 memorial at the National Cathedral at which President Obama will speak. Individuals, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other communities of faith are, of course, free to have 9/11 worship and prayer services at their discretion.

Whether accurate or not, President George W. Bush and many other neoconservatives used to say frequently that one of the reasons for terrorist attacks like September 11, 2011 is that, “They hate us for our freedom.” The freedom of religion is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution, but part of the freedom of religion is a freedom from religion for those who so choose. In turn, keeping government out of planning worship and choosing who prays publicly is a good call by Mayor Bloomberg.

For those interested in continuing to reflect on this controversy, The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog is hosting a roundtable discussion from a variety of religious leaders and political commentators called “No prayer for 9/11?

My favorite of these posts is from Brent Walker, who is both a committed Christian and an active lobbyist for the separation of church and state. His piece is titled, “A Fine Line between ‘Secular’ and ‘Sacred’.”


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