There's been criticism of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to exclude clergy from this weekend's 10th anniversary events marking the day the Islamic terrorists struck New York, Washington and in Pennsylvania in 2001, killing almost 3,000.
It's come from the religious right and left both. Some 62,000 Americans signed petitions assembled by the Family Research Council asking him to relent. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice wrote that the United States "has a long and cherished history of prayer, from the first prayer in Congress in 1774 to the National Day of Prayer celebrated each year. Even the Supreme Court acknowledges our religious heritage."
But all apparently without impact on the mayor who made the decision.
Now, however, a new incentive is coming into Bloomberg's world: A lawsuit that challenges his decision on the basis of the 1st Amendment's freedom of speech and religion provisions.
"What he is doing is sending a message that radical Islam takes precedence over the Judeo-Christian tradition in New York City and throughout the country. He's sending a message that terrorists are welcome in New York City. That's not the message that one should be sending on 9/11," said attorney Larry Klayman, who founded Judicial Watch and now is of Freedom Watch.
"His actions are an absolute disgrace to all Americans, whatever their race, color or creed," he said.
He said his clients – who will be plaintiffs in the legal action that is being prepared for filing as early as tomorrow – include Bishop Dan Johnson, a member of the "World Bishops Council" who on the early morning hours of 9/11 had arrived in Manhattan.
According to his story, he was resting when his wife called concerned about an airplane accident. He immediately responded to offer his help, and was asked by the New York Police Department to set up the first morgue in the financial district.
He kept records of victims brought in, performed last rites on the dead and prayed for them, and has participated in every 9/11 ceremony at Ground Zero since.
"Originally I was invited to attend this year's 9/11 ceremony as a first responder, just like I was every year since 2001," Bishop Johnson told former U.S. Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who also is involved in the case.
"But then I heard Mayor Bloomberg banned clergy, so it took five phone calls to his office before [a Bloomberg senior staffer] asked me if I was going to wear my clerical collar. I said I planned to dress just like I did the previous nine years, so she replied 'they' prefer you not attend. And that was it. I was disinvited."
"Disinvited because of his religion, his clergyman status, and his faith in Jesus Christ. Bishop Dan Johnson is a hero who faces arbitrary and illegal persecution and discrimination for religion by the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg," Klingenschmitt, who runs the Pray In Jesus Name organization, said.
Sekulow noted that when America was attacked, thousands gathered for the "Prayer in America" event at Yankee Stadium for a united time of seeking God.
"There's a growing chorus of Americans – religious and non-religious alike – calling on Mayor Bloomberg to reconsider his decision," Sekulow said. "And in the past week, we have heard from thousands of Americans who have signed our letter urging Mayor Bloomberg to change his mind. He still has time to act. He should clear the way for clergy and religious leaders to participate – to pray for our nation, and to pray for those who are still suffering from the pain and loss of Sept. 11, 2001."
There are other plaintiffs who also may join in the action, Klayman told WND.
Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said there are clegy members who also are trying to have a public prayer service at Ground Zero on Saturday, Sept. 10.
"In the dark days after 9/11, millions of Americans turned to God in prayer for strength, comfort, guidance and assurance. This was especially true for those who lost loved ones," he said. "It is extremely troubling for Mayor Bloomberg to exclude public prayer and expressions of faith from the 9/11 memorial service.
"In response to his tragic decision by the mayor, we felt it was imperative to have a public prayer service at Ground Zero during the 9/11 weekend," he said.
Rev. Rob Schenck, of the National Clergy Council, joined the sentiment.
"On Sept. 11, 2001, millions of Americans did the most important and natural thing in the face of such an enormous tragedy, they prayed. In the days following, they went to church to pray, to remember, to grieve, to cry," he said. "Pastors around the nation spent countless hours comforting the bereaved, assuring their flocks, engaging in acts of compassion and speaking words of hope.
"The absence of both at this week's 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero may seem like a reasonable situation to some, but it will only compound the pain and loss for some many others. Our intention is to address that need in the hearts and minds of so many affected by the pain of that infamous day."
The Associated Press speculated that perhaps Bloomberg's decision was prompted by his effort to dodge the controversial issue of including a representative of Islam, in whose name the terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers, part of the Pentagon and apparently tried to hit either the White House or Capitol.
A Bloomberg spokeswoman, Evelyn Erskine, told the wire service the program includes moments of silence.
"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," Erskine told AP.
But Cathy Cleaver Ruse, of the FRC, said, "Before Todd Beamer uttered his now iconic last words, 'Let's roll,' he recited the Lord's Prayer with Lisa Jefferson, the GTE Airfone operator. Yet there is no place for this or any prayer at Mayor Bloomberg's event.
"When our country was attacked, Americans didn't say: 'Oh, Great Politicians, please hold a press conference!' No, they turned to God for help and solace. It was and is their natural response to a great tragedy," she continued.
"Banning religion from the memorial of this tragedy is, in fact, unnatural for America, and for Americans. It's hollow and strange. It feels like an attempt to scrub the history books of the importance that God and faith played on that day and afterwards, and even to rewrite our long-cherished tradition as a nation of elected officials including clergy and invoking God at every point of crisis.
"Government can only do so much, politicians can only do so much. The presence of politicians and presidents will not make up for the absence of prayer and pastors."
Pamela Geller, author of the new "Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance," said the Sunday anniversary events are nothing more than a "whitewash" of the Islamic enemy trying to destroy America.
Geller, of Atlas Shrugs and a key leader in planning Sunday's second annual Freedom Rally at 3 p.m. at Park Place and West Broadway, told WND tens of thousands, including first responders and members of the clergy, are expected to be in attendance.
The focal point will not be obfuscated, either, by high-sounding calls to "service" and advocacy for "tolerance," she warned.
"If we don't understand who wants to destroy our country, our way of life and civilization, how can we possibly be able to defeat them," she asked.
"We must show the jihadists we are unbowed in the defense of freedom," she said.