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No clergy at 9/11 ceremony called ‘bigotry’

WASHINGTON (BP) — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to include clergy in the 10th anniversary remembrance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has drawn objections from Christian leaders.

“This is a shameful example of anti-religious bigotry,” Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land said. “This once again betrays the secular bias against religion in certain liberal elements of our society whose epicenter is New York City.”

Fernando Cabrera, a pastor and New York City council member, said he was “utterly disappointed” and “shocked,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Cabrera told CNN he contacted the mayor’s office but was told there would be no prayers offered at the ceremony.

Bloomberg’s office said the 10th anniversary ceremony would follow the pattern of previous observances on the date of the worst attack ever against Americans on their soil. Earlier anniversary events also have not included clergy, according to the mayor’s office. The focus is to be on those who lost family members in the attacks.

“The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature,” said Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg, in an email 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,” she said.

There will be moments of silence in the 10th anniversary observance so people can have times of “personal and religious introspection,” Erskine told CNN.

The exclusion of religious leaders from participation in the ceremony contrasts sharply with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Land and Cabrera said.

“On that day, political correctness didn’t matter,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “It was overwhelmed by the crushing reality of the tragedy of 9/11, and people turned, as they always do, to solace from the realm of the spirit and those religious leaders who have always guided them in that realm.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Cabrera said of the response of clergy to the attacks, “This is one of the pillars that carried us through. They were the spiritual and emotional backbone, and when you have a situation where people are trying to find meaning, where something is bigger than them, when you have a crisis of this level, they often look to the clergy.”

Cabrera is pastor of New Life Outreach International in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Land noted first-responders — police, firemen and emergency personnel — also are not invited to participate in the ceremony unless they are family members of victims.

“Once again, on the original 9/11, first-responders were not excluded, and I suspect that if, God forbid, there is another attack of similar severity in New York, neither religious leaders nor first-responders will be excluded from that event either,” Land said. “This just shows the mindless secularist prejudice of the political establishment on the East Coast.”

Mega-church pastor Rick Warren, who also expressed his disagreement with the exclusion of prayers from this year’s ceremony, announced that his church — Saddleback Church in Southern California — will unite with a church plant two blocks from the site of the New York City attacks for a live webcast of “Hope & Freedom” services on the weekend of Sept. 10-11, the Christian Post reported.

Saddleback helped start Lower Manhattan Community Church after the terrorist attacks.

President Obama and former President George W. Bush are scheduled to take part in the New York City observance conducted by Bloomberg.

Terrorists affiliated with the Islamic extremist organization al-Qaida carried out the attacks in 2001 by hijacking four commercial airliners. They crashed two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon. The other crashed in rural western Pennsylvania after a battle between the hijackers and a band of heroic passengers.

Nearly 3,000 people on the planes and in the buildings they struck died in the crashes, including more than 400 first-responders who died at the World Trade Center.

A National Day of Prayer and Remembrance was held three days after the attacks. The Sept. 14 observance featured a service at Washington’s National Cathedral at which President Bush and Billy Graham spoke. On Sept. 23, an interfaith memorial service was held at Yankee Stadium in New York City.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.