Christine M. Flowers: The Pieties of Mayor Mike Bloomberg: He banishes religion & first-responders from 9/11 tributes

Father Mychal Judge
Father Mychal Judge
Posted: September 02, 2011

I WAS flabbergasted when I learned of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to keep religion and tributes to first responders out of next week's 9/11 commemorations. I don't have his personal cellphone or email, so here's an open letter to Hizzoner. He probably won't see it, but miracles do happen (even for non-believers).

Dear Mayor B:

This is in reference to your decision to deny God his VIP tickets to the event next week. It's also about your unwillingness to put first responders front and center. I understand you've justified the move as respect for the victims, but to many of us, it seems like a brownnose gift to the PC crowd.

But if you're sincere about honoring the victims, let's take a look at some of them, shall we?

Maybe we can start with Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan chaplain of the New York Fire Department who lost his life rendering last rites to fallen firefighters. The picture of Father Mychal being carried away in the arms of his brothers in the FYPD is as heartbreaking as Michelangelo's "Pieta." Look at it, Mr. Mayor, and see if you still think religion has no place here.

And then you should peruse back issues of the New York Times and check out the pages and pages of memorials to New York cops, Port Authority officers and other first responders. They ran to the smoke and flames while others ran away. I'll bet that some of them were praying as they put on their gear. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.

I'm not surprised you want to disinfect this event of any whiff of spirituality. Your reaction to the proposed mosque near Ground Zero shows your poor concept of what religion means for most Americans. The fact that you painted opponents of the mosque as bigots showed a lack of nuance.

The vast majority of the people who opposed the location of the mosque didn't hate Muslims - but they couldn't abide the strain of Islam that prompted the attacks, and didn't want a reminder of that near the grave site of their loved ones. Pretty logical, if you ask me, Mayor Agnostic.

And even though I'm not surprised about the ban on religious expression, I'm shocked that you want to marginalize the sacrifice of the first responders. The men and women on the ground who ran into the maelstrom were heroes. Don't we need to honor them, set them apart for special thanks, make their sacrifice a focal point of this moment?

There is no hallowed ground to hold their remains, nothing like Gettysburg and Normandy. Even Shanksville, sacred as it is, isn't it. Why shouldn't we remember the men and women who gave their lives without worrying about whose overwrought sensibilities they might offend?

And speaking of Gettysburg, Lincoln's address could teach you a lesson: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

I know you look down on those who look upward for guidance and comfort. You think we're either unsophisticated or intolerant, tied to ancient rituals that tend to be exclusive and demanding. I know how you feel about Catholics and our position on same-sex marriage. (Did you know, by the way, that Father Mychal was gay?)

You seem to have a problem with those who read the Bible a bit more literally than most Democrats-turned-Republicans-turned-independents-turned-whatever the heck gets you elected. I know you probably chuckled like those snotty Widener law students when Christine O'Donnell said the phrase "separation of church and state" is not in the Constitution. (She's right, actually.)

So none of us should really be shocked at the prospect of a sanitized and secular 9/11 commemoration. Of course, if Rudy Giuliani were in charge, things would probably be much different. He wasn't a particularly religious fellow, but he understood the importance of ritual. Tributes to first responders would be the first ones made, with Father Mychal at the head of the heavenly procession.

Followed by prayers for the victims, who are in a better place (not that you believe the place exists) but who still haunt our memories with the tragedy of their shattered lives.

And only then would we turn to the VIPs, such as presidents and senators and campaign contributors whose coins get counted with the same reverence that others finger rosary beads. (Sorry for that reference to religion.)



Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.


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