Family Research Council, the conservative family values group, joined forces with Democratic New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) to present New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with more than 62,000 signatures asking the mayor to allow clergy, prayer and first responders at the city's 9/11 memorial ceremony Sunday. The service will mark the 10th anniversary of the attack on the nation.
At a noon press conference, FRC Senior Legal Studies Fellow Cathy Ruse stood together with Councilman Cabrera to urge the city to include prayer at the Sunday ceremony.
Ruse appealed directly to the mayor saying, "Perhaps for Mayor Bloomberg, God and faith do not mean much, but it is exceedingly tone deaf not to recognize their importance to most Americans."
She recalled how faith and prayers were present on the day of the attacks.
"On the morning of Sept. 11, Father George Rutler heard a jet-plane flying too low, learned the horrific news and flew to the scene, spending the morning hearing the confessions of firefighters entering the soon-to-collapse building," Ruse recounted.
She also told of how Todd Beamer, one of the four passengers to overtake 9/11 terrorists aboard United Airlines Flight 93, prayed the Lord's Prayer with the GTE Airfone operator before uttering the now iconic last words, "Let's roll."
Yet Bloomberg has excluded religious leaders from attending and praying at New York City's 10th anniversary memorial service commemorating the attack on the World Trade Center. Rather, the service includes only victims' family members and politicians.
A spokesperson for New York's City Hall told The Wall Street Journal that previous 9/11 anniversary memorials did not include religious leaders and they wanted to strike a similar tone with the 10th anniversary.
“There are hundreds of important people that have offered to participate over the last nine years, but the focus remains on the families of the thousands who died on Sept. 11," said the spokesperson.
Ruse said the decision is misguided and does not reflect the national response following the attacks.
"When our country was attacked, Americans didn't say: 'Oh, great politicians, please hold a press conference!' No, they turned to God for help and solace. It was and is their natural response to a great tragedy," she said.
Twelve days after New York’s twin towers were attacked, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani held a "Prayer for America" memorial service. In addition, U.S. House and Senate chaplains also held prayer services in Washington, D.C., where the Pentagon was also attacked.
"Banning religion from the memorial of this tragedy is, in fact, unnatural for America, and for Americans,” said Ruse. “It's hollow and strange. It feels like an attempt to scrub the history books of the importance that God and faith played on that day and afterwards, and even to rewrite our long-cherished tradition as a nation of elected officials including clergy and invoking God at every point of crisis."
The 62,725 people who signed the FRC's petition agreed that the presence of politicians and presidents would not make up for the absence of prayer and pastors. Cabrera garnered even more support for prayer at the Sunday ceremony. His petition featured more than 500 signatures.
FRC President Tony Perkins noted the decision to exclude religious leaders stating, "Mayor Bloomberg apparently thinks that the invited politicians will be able to offer enough comfort to the families.”
He also chided Bloomberg for excluding first responders such as the police, paramedics and firefighters from the Sunday ceremony. Many first responders died trying to rescue victims stuck in the towers.
First responders, like people of faith, did not take situation lying down. Jack Dewan, a fourth-generation firefighter whose uncle Gerard Dewan lost his life responding to the attacks, has also launched a petition.
"I just can't wrap my head around the idea of why you would keep cops, firefighters and EMS away," Dewan told The Daily Caller. "That doesn't make any sense to me."
As of Wednesday morning the petition has received 1,900 signatures.
Bloomberg's spokesperson Andrew Brent told The Daily Caller, "While we are again focused on accommodating victims' family members, given the space constraints, we're working to find ways to recognize and honor first responders and other groups at different places and times."
The Christian Post also attempted to contact Mayor Bloomberg’s office multiple times for a response to the prayer petitions. No response was received prior to publication.