Religious leaders are calling on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to offer clergy a role in the ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Officials from Bloomberg's office, who are coordinating the ceremony, confirmed Wednesday that spiritual leaders will not participate, just as has been the case during past ceremonies marking the tragic event.
The mayor has said he wants the upcoming event to strike a similar tone as previous ceremonies.
"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 mayoral spokeswoman Evelyn Erskine.
But the mayor's plans this year have drawn increased scrutiny and some disapproval, as the event will attract an international audience and President Barack Obama will attend.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has publicly criticized the mayor about the list of speakers, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has quietly sought to play a larger role.
But the exclusion of religious leaders has struck some as particularly glaring.
City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a pastor at the Bronx church New Life Outreach International, said he is "utterly disappointed" and "shocked" by the absence of clergy. When the terrorist attacks occurred, people in the city and nationwide turned to spiritual leaders for guidance, he said.
Cabrera described the religious leaders' exclusion as "wiping out the recognition of the importance that spirituality plays on that day."
Rudy Washington, a deputy mayor in former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration, had organized an interfaith ceremony at Yankee Stadium shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and he said he is outraged at Bloomberg's decision.
During the 2001 "Prayer for America" service at Yankee Stadium, leaders from the major religions -- Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Sikhs, Greek Orthodox -- addressed the crowd of thousands from a podium atop second base.
"I brought every major religion to this event in Yankee Stadium," said Washington, who is considering holding a news conference on Sept. 11 to object to the exclusion of clergy.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis and one of the participants in the September 2001 interfaith ceremony at Yankee Stadium, said it would be difficult to include all faiths in the upcoming anniversary ceremony.
"I understand the feelings," he said. "[But] I don't know how we make it possible for everyone to have a place at the table."
Source: The Wall Street Journal