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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

New York’s 9/11 commemoration will be secular

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York approaches, and the city prepares to commemorate the event in secular fashion. This has brought the usual protests from religious figures who assume that such events should be dominated by their personal take on religion.

But Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, explained: “The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature. 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.”

Instead of spoken prayers, there would be moments of silence that would permit each individual to remember and reflect in their own way, with silent prayers if they want to.

Fernado Cabrera, a New York City councilman and the pastor of New Life Outreach International church in the Bronx, said he was, “Utterly disappointed and surprised,” over the decision not to include any clergy in the ceremony.

“There’s certain things that government cannot do, and answering questions of meaning of ‘Why are we going through this?’ and ‘Where am I going to get strength from?’ – those are existential questions that can only be answered from a spiritual aspect,” Cabrera said.

Bloomberg spoke about the ceremony on his weekly radio show on 29 July. President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush would both be attending and participating, as well as other politicians and elected officials. “This cannot be political,” Bloomberg told the radio audience. “That’s why there’s a poem or a quote or something that each one of the readers will read.” He added there would be “no speeches whatsoever.”

While he was talking about which officials would attend, he noted, “There’s an awful lot of people that would like to participate but you just can’t do that, once you open it up. So the argument here is it’s elected officials and those who were there at the time and had some influence.”

The New York Police Department will be holding its own ceremony that will include prayers at the Lincoln Centre in the days leading up to September 11.

Published Fri, 02 Sep 2011