The decision by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to exclude any prayers from clergy at ground zero in the upcoming 10th anniversary commemoration of the 9/11 attacks is being categorized as un-American by an evangelical leader and spiritual adviser to President Obama.
Florida Pastor Joel C. Hunter, who also serves as an executive board member for both global and national evangelical associations, said Christians should speak out or protest the decision because the importance of faith in the United States is being neglected.
Bloomberg stirred much controversy recently when he stated, "Everybody would like to participate, and the bottom line is everybody cannot participate. There isn't room. There isn't time. And in some cases, it's just not appropriate."
Hunter told The Christian Post, “The problem with this is, because of his singular decision, this ceremony isn’t really going to be representative of America. It’s going to be exclusionary, secularist only, and we are one of the most religious countries in the world. So, the bottom line is, this is not how we were founded. This is not who we are.”
The pastor of Northland church continued, “This is a national time of mourning and healing. I think it is particularly offensive to explicitly exclude any religious expression.”
Hunter said the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an “event that changed the face and the countenance of our nation.” He said he is hoping the 10th-anniversary memorial service will be a time when everyone comes together.
“Our faith is at the heart of our identity,” he said. “I think that Christians should speak out and give some sort of reasonable protest because I do think that, in moments like this, it's especially important to include the perspective of faith, and this is a national day. This is something all of us are involved in and the separation of church and state does not equal expunging all religion from public square activities.That just simply is not what it means.”
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, also disagrees with Bloomberg's decision, citing a recent Barna Group study that shows that 61 percent of New York-area residents agree strongly that religious faith is very important to them.
"In a city where the most residents in recent memory now cite religious faith as strongly important, New York is tone-deaf to exclude all religion when remembering the slaughter of over 3,000 innocents,” said Tooley in a statement released by IRD Thursday. "To exclude clergy even at a memorial service implies that religion is not welcome in the public square, even in mourning.”
Tooley added, "From presidential inaugurals to opening Congress, to countless civic events routinely in every community across America, clergy and prayers have been a regular part of public life for years. The exclusion of both clergy and prayers is deeply at odds with America's robust religious life and even with the beliefs of most New Yorkers.”
Hunter told CP that he has recently talked with members of the White House's faith-based initiative advisory committee, which confirmed that President Obama will be giving a speech from the Washington National Cathedral the evening of the 9/11 commemoration.
Although he said he has not seen the president’s comments planned for the evening, Hunter believes that the “setting alone” shows that Obama will be including a faith perspective.