Clergy Insulted By Speaking Ban At Sept. 11 Events

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is banning clergy-led prayer at this weekend's events marking the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The mayor's office says he wants to avoid disagreements over which religious leaders participate. Some religious groups are calling the ban a sign of prejudice against religion.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

When people gather in New York City Sunday to remember the September 11th attacks, members of the clergy will have no official role. That was the decision by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty has a look at the reaction.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Each year for the past decade, the main ceremony has involved reading the names of victims, allowing moments of silence, but never opening the podium to clergy.

Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for the mayor, says it's the way family members want it.

Ms. JULIE WOOD (Spokeswoman, Mayor Michael Bloomberg): It's been widely supported in the past 10 years. And, you know, rather than have disagreements over which religious leaders participate, we wanted to keep the focus of the commemoration ceremony on the family members of those who died on 9/11.

Dr. RICHARD LAND (Southern Baptist Convention): As more and more people find out about this, they're incredulous.

HAGERTY: Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention says ground zero is a sacred place, and barring clergy from an official role is an insult.

Dr. LAND: It's clear that there are attempts by some to marginalize religious expression and religious faith.

HAGERTY: Now, groups like the Catholic League and the Family Research Council are rallying members and demanding that Bloomberg change his mind.

Mr. CHARLES HAYNES (First Amendment Center): I think the mayor is in a no-win situation.

HAGERTY: Charles Haynes is a religion law expert at the First Amendment Center. He says if Bloomberg includes clergy, he'd have to invite a Muslim leader, which could be sensitive.

Mr. HAYNES: Right now, in the current climate, to have an imam on the stage with other clergy could ignite a big debate, much like the so-called ground zero mosque controversy.

HAGERTY: Haynes notes there will be plenty of opportunities for clergy to speak at other ceremonies. Asked if the mayor is reconsidering, spokeswoman Julie Wood says: We're sticking with the plan.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR news.

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