Memo To The Religious Right: On Sept. 11, 2011, Americans Can Pray – Even Without Government Direction

Americans are quite capable of engaging in religious activity without government direction.

The 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is fast approaching, giving the Religious Right just a few more days to rant and rave about the lack of official prayers at the commemoration sponsored by New York City.

As I noted recently, several Religious Right organizations have joined forces to promote a phony controversy over New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to put the focus of the day on the families of those who lost their lives during the attacks. Family members will read remembrances, some of which will undoubtedly be spiritual in nature, but there will be no official prayers during the ceremony.

The Religious Right’s outrage machine in working overtime, pumping out various petitions, letters and emails blasting Bloomberg for his alleged hostility toward religion. These groups are shamelessly exploiting the memory of this tragic event to raise money and keep the media spotlight on themselves. It’s appalling.

One outfit has decided to take things even further. The Christian Defense Coalition has issued a press release fulminating that it plans to sponsor a private prayer service Sept. 10 at the Ground Zero site and vowing to file a federal lawsuit if anyone tries to stop them.

The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said in a press release, “During our prayer time at Ground Zero, we will seek God for His continued protection, pray for those who lost loved ones, pray for our leaders and elected officials and turn to God in repentance recognizing only He can bring healing and restoration to our nation.”

Mahoney sent information about his event to the New York City Police Department. My guess is that he’s hoping (praying, actually) that some misguided cop will try to interfere, or, alternatively, he and his supporters will engage in some sort of questionable activity at the site to draw the attention of the authorities. Once the police show up, Mahoney and crew can manufacture yet another Religious Right urban legend about how the government tried to shut down their prayer service.

Don’t think I’m being paranoid. Mahoney and his associates have long been active in the extreme fringe of the anti-abortion movement and love to engineer media stunts. In July of 1992, Mahoney pal the Rev. Rob Schenck (who is taking part in the Ground Zero prayer event) and two others thrust a dead fetus at Bill Clinton in New York City. Four years later, Schenck yelled at Clinton, “God will hold you to account, Mr. President,” as Clinton was walking to receive communion at Washington National Cathedral.

To Mahoney, Schenck and their cronies I can only say: Grow up. This isn’t about you. The 9/11 commemoration is an opportunity for all Americans to reflect on that tragic event in whatever way is meaningful for them. Undoubtedly, millions will pray that day. They will do it even if there’s no official prayer during the ceremony.

Americans are quite capable of engaging in religious activity without government direction. As Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty put it recently, “While a non-sectarian prayer delivered at the event would surely be constitutionally acceptable and appropriate for the event, it is by no means required. Conservative activists who suddenly this year are excited by this decision are mistaken in suggesting it represents some betrayal of duty. Staying away from official prayer – I’m sure there will still be a moment of silence for reflection and prayer by anyone who wishes to pray – avoids all the problems such prayer brings: who will speak? which religious perspectives will be represented? if a distinctly denominational prayer is offered, why wouldn't followers of other faiths be offended? After all, adherents of many, many faiths were killed on September 11. Is the proper national response necessarily Christian? Why would that be?”

The various commemorations that are taking place this weekend are a time for national unity. Religious Right groups insist on using them to divide us – and as vehicles to get their names in the media.

They are beneath contempt. I hope their pathetic stunts fall flat.