Friday, September 2, 2011

Prayer Banned from 9/11


Should prayers be said at memorial services? Do they offer peace of mind or point out religious differences? Although many would believe that a short prayer is necessary at a ceremony, U.S. officials are excluding religious leaders from the biggest remembrance ceremony of the year. Ever since that fatefully tragic September day in 2001, Americans across the country have come together to remember those who perished in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Centers. As the 10th anniversary approaches, this year will be no different, however many religious figures are trying to make changes to service at ground zero. This year the names of the 2,983 deceased will be read by their families as well as short remarks will be made by the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Barack Obama. Although this same ceremony occurs annually, many Christian leaders are voicing their concern. These clergy members believe that the event organizers have purposefully left out a religious figure to say a few prayers throughout the service. Evelyn Erskine, spokeswoman for the mayor said “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.” The question now is should there be a religious leader presence? And if so, of what denomination should that figure be associated with? The United States government and the event leaders for the 10th annual remembrance ceremony believe there should be no religious affiliation.

I believe that the purpose of the remembrance ceremony is to reflect on the names of the lives lost on that horrific day. This is not an ordinary memorial service. It reflects on an event that not only killed many people, but also seriously threatened the state of our country. Of the 10 previously held remembrance services, clergy members have never once been present at ground zero. Instead of a prayer, there have been moments of silence for the audience to reflect and if they choose to at that moment, pray. These moments are planned for this year’s ceremony as well. While I recognize that a prayer may seem very important to religious leaders, I think they are losing focus on the real purpose of this ceremony. It is to remember those who died. It is meant to focus on the tragedy that every person across the country felt in their heart the moment they watched what the two planes hit the World Trade Center Towers. Although prayer is often used to help console, in this situation I believe having this event in itself helps to reflect and comfort.

Also, if there were to be a clergy member at the ceremony, who would it be? How would the organizers decide which person reflects a large enough majority to be present? Recently, while on a radio show, Mayor Bloomberg stated “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.” If one Christian leader was selected, Americans of Jewish faith would want their own separate speaker. Then maybe Protestants and Catholics would want their own separate speakers. And if these three different faiths were able to have a speaker it could spark the question of why a Muslim leader was not present. After all, there are many Muslims living in this country and they may want to voice a prayer as well. This could in effect bring about even more controversy. And through all this difference in opinion and addition of speakers the focus of the remembrance ceremony would be lost.

While I respect and recognize the reason for wanting to hold a prayer I believe that it takes away from what is truly important at the ceremony. Also, if these religious leaders feel so strongly about a prayer then they can go to one of the many other commemorative events taking place that day. Ultimately I believe that in theory a prayer is a positive addition to the ceremony, but the process of finding a speaker who everyone can agree on would be impossible and the service already holds moments of silence which fulfill the same purpose that a prayer would.

8 comments:

Harry R. said...

I agree with Allison that the primary focus of the memorial ceremony should remain solely on the families and memories of those who died. By keeping the ceremony focused on the events of September 11 and reflecting on the tragedies of that day, the focus of the memorial ceremony does not lose its potency while personal religious beliefs are not restricted. Religious leaders understandably feel that they should be allowed to speak during the ceremony, but the resulting controversy over which leaders would be allowed to speak would redirect attention away from the main focus of the ceremony.

Jean A said...

I strongly agree with Allison’s point of view stating that the inclusion of religious officials at the September 11th memorial service would downplay the true importance of commemorating that fateful day. I believe the main reason to congregate at ground zero on the anniversary is to pay respects to those who lost their lives as well as comfort their family members. I do not think it is necessary to have religious officials there, because like Allison said, this will cause controversy as to which religious denominations to represent. In order for this event to run smoothly, with little to no conflict, religion should be kept out of the ceremony, sticking to the original plan of incorporating a moment of silence in which people can choose how they want to reflect, regardless of their religious affiliation.

PamelaR said...

I also agree that religious prayer is not appropriate in a public 9/11 ceremony. Even if the event staff were to somehow determine the religion of everyone in attendance AND everyone killed on 9/11 and invite a clergy member from every religion and offer a prayer from all of these religions, those in the audience who were not religious or who are present to honor nonreligious persons would feel alienated and as if their family or friends were not being equally missed or honored as the persons the prayers were aimed at. With a moment of silence, all religious and nonreligious would be respected and honored because each person may use the time to pray, remember, or think as they wish. I'm sure many churches or religiously affiliated organizations hold 9/11 ceremonies as well, not in public settings-- that is the place for them to have religious clergy and prayers present, not at a public ceremony.

Ally R said...

I agree with Allison in the aspect that prayer can be a form of consolation, yet is not appropriate in this situation. We know that the 2,983 Americans who died as a result of 9/11 were not all of the same religion, therefore having one religious speaker, from one religion, would come across as disrespectful towards those who are not of the same faith. This service should be about remembrance, which is why I feel that Allison's statement regarding a moment of silence is most appropriate, seeing as it would fit the beliefs of all in attendance.

Chris R. said...

It is certainly true that the family members of those that lost their lives must be recognized on this day. However, September 11 does not have resonance with these individuals only. This was a day on which America was attacked. This nation watched in horror as press releases spoke of the tragedies occurring in New York. It should not be forgotten that this nation as a whole suffered, and that America as a whole deserves comforting in a way most natural to them. Just as the President is able to conclude a speech with “God Bless America,” God should not be overlooked on a day on which America needs the most support and reassurance.

Annie M said...

I think Evelyn Erskine, the spokeswoman for the mayor, said it perfectly that “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.” Connecting a religious affiliation to the 9/11 ceremony complicates things. The conflict takes away from the importance of that day and the lives that were lost. Since this tragedy marks the deaths of 2,983 innocent people, there understandably a desire for prayers to wish the victims to rest in peace. However, since religion is so tricky and sensitive, the battle over what religious leaders will inevitably take away from the meaning of the ceremony.

Zermeno A. said...

Though I am aware of all of the controversy sparked by the ban of prayer from the official 9/11 ceremony due to respect issues for those who were/are unreligious, I believe that there is no need for such. The simple fact that it will have been 10yrs since the incident should make us that much stronger as a whole. As was stated in a previous post, the moment of silence can be used for prayer and such. Religion is an important part of many individuals lives but we should simply take the ceremony to come as one and put all of our differences aside to conmemorate those who were lost on such tragic day.

Andrew Lichtenauer said...

In my opinion, there are certain situations that call for religious prayer and practice and there are some that do not. In the case of the upcoming 10 year anniversary of September 11th, I don't believe it is necessary to incorporate religious beliefs and practices into any sort of ceremony. Whether you are a Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc., 9/11 had a serious affect on you one way or another. Adding particular prayers that favor one faith over another fails to recognize the real reason why we are remembering 9/11 - to reflect on the many lives that were lost on that September morning.