Excluding Prayer From 9/11 Memorial Compounds the Tragedy of That Day
This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published August 25, 2011 on The Washington Examiner website.
Do you remember what things were like in the hours and days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Evidently New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg does not.
While the smoke was still rising against a clear sky over Manhattan, Pennsylvania, and Washington, people were flooding to churches across the country and prayer groups spontaneously organized in neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.
Days later, President Bush spoke at a national memorial service at our National Cathedral, and clergy of various faiths offered prayers in conjunction with the president’s remarks. And a televised interfaith service was held in New York City, attended by thousands.
Yet on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Bloomberg has decreed that clergy will be excluded from the 9/11 memorial ceremony. Bloomberg–who has a record of hostility toward social-conservative issues – especially Christian issues – says the memorial schedule is too busy to allow prayer.
Public prayer has been a staple of public events since before the founding of America and the adoption of our Constitution. When the Supreme Court in 1983 upheld prayer invocations at the opening of governmental assemblies, the Court noted that the same week the First Congress proposed the Bill of Rights–including the Establishment Clause prohibiting an official national religion–it passed bills to hire paid chaplains to offer daily prayers and spiritual guidance.
Such prayers and guidance are especially important, not to mention comforting, in moments of grief and sadness. Think, for example, of Psalm 46, which begins, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”
Moments like 9/11 remind us of the frailty of human life. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. In tragedy, we are reminded to treasure what is truly important, and to contemplate the most profound issues of existence and eternity.
We turn in such moments to those whose calling is to study and teach these issues. Far from a crutch for the weak-minded, this calls for the strength to turn off the TV and iPod to contemplate those sobering realities.
That is why those who teach the things of God participate in public memorials. Far beyond some sort of meaningless ritual or custom, public prayer both solemnizes these occasions and shines the light of sacred and eternal truths on our temporal lives here on earth.
Bloomberg’s sad exclusion of all prayer and clergy from the 9/11 ceremony is also illustrative of something much broader: political correctness increasingly means intolerance and exclusion of Christians from public life in our society. We see this in bans on prayer at veterans’ funerals in Houston, as well as in criticism of Governor Rick Perry’s day of prayer event.
Ironically, this is what the 9/11 terrorists – jihadists completely intolerant of others’ beliefs – were seeking. And America’s deep, vibrant faith stands against all this. For all these reasons, leaders of our historic faiths must be prominent in any 9/11 memorial service.