David Silverman, the president of the American Atheists, is agreeing with religious leaders who oppose Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to ban clergy from the upcoming 10th anniversary ceremony of the 9/11 attacks.
Prayers and invocations spoken by the clergy would thereby also be excluded from the annual memorial service, outraging many who felt that the event would not be complete without the support from religious leaders.
“I think such invocations should be allowed,” Silverman, 45, blogged, “and I would indeed like to volunteer to give such an invocation on behalf of nonreligious people.”
After all, this holiday is about what happens when religion goes wrong, and theocrats take over, he penned.
In order for Silverman to be allowed to speak, however, he acknowledged that Christians, too, should be given the opportunity to speak, as well as other religious groups like Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews.
After all, “fair is fair,” Silverman added. “Every religion would have equal time to invoke their god or say something particular to their theology, but that’s OK, because if we all tried we can still keep the meaning focused on the victims and heroes of 9/11, and not on our theological positions and the differences therein.”
Although Bloomberg understood the requests and outcry of the public, he remained unwavering in his decision.
“Everybody would like to participate,” Bloomberg recently told the public, “[but] the bottom line is everybody cannot participate. There isn’t room. There isn’t time. And in some cases, it’s just not appropriate.”
Several religious leaders reacted to the news with disappointment and frustration.
“This is America, and to have a memorial service where there’s no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me,” former New York Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington told The Wall Street Journal.
New York City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and pastor at New Life Outreach International also added, “I think it’s a mistake.”
Speaking to Fox News, Cabrera noted, “Religious leaders were some of the first ones to be there at ground zero” and were also the “emotional and spiritual backbone.”
However, a spokesperson for New York’s City Hall told WSJ, “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.”
Cabrera agreed that, “This event is about the families.” And the famlies "are still feeling the pain," he told Fox, adding, "Prayer is what gave us strength, will continue to give us strength, to give purpose, to find meaning out of this tragic event, and to remove what I think is a tragic mistake.”
Some religious officials, however, sympathized with Bloomberg’s decision. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis told WSJ, “Who’s going to agree as to who the representatives of the faith...will be?”
“We have all the different groups. If we have four denominations, what about the fifth denomination? There are practical considerations when planning something, where you want to be as inclusive as possible but sometimes you find it impossible to have everyone present who should be present. It’s very difficult.”
One reader on Atheists.org also agreed with the mayor’s stance. “Religion will try and put emphasis on itself,” CPT_BRUMBL3Z wrote. “If they allowed a non-religious speaker as well as anyone else who wanted in, either we’d see the same kind of non-9/11 proselytizing or we’d receive unwarranted hostility because people found out we exist and still have rights.”
Regardless of the reaction from both ends, Bloomberg continues to stand by his decision. “The focus of this commemoration ceremony is on the family members of those who died,” his press secretary Andrew Brent told Fox, not religion, politics, or politicians.
The mayor, worried as well that elected officials would use the anniversary service for their own agendas, banned speakers from reciting any speeches additionally.
President Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush, along with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who will be joining the mayor at the ceremony, will only be permitted to read a poem or quote.
“The bottom line is for ten years we’ve been doing this for families, and we’re going to continue to do it for families,” the mayor said at a press conference.
During the upcoming ceremony, for the first time ever, the names of nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks, including those who died at the Pentagon and aboard United Flight 93, will be read aloud.
Family members will also exclusively be able to enter inside the 9/11 Memorial to look for the name of their loved ones, inscribed in bronze on the railings of the twin memorial pools built in the former location of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
The memorial will then be open to the public on Sept. 12, though online reservations for the first few days have already been booked, Bloomberg stated.
The 10th anniversary ceremony remembering the victims of the 9/11 attacks will be held on the highway west of ground zero on Sept. 11, 2011.