Prayers, clergy missing from 9/11 event

Get ready to start thinking about the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 if you haven't already. NPR is one of many outlets preparing to tell you all about it, starting coverage on September 5. Of course, we'll be interested in the percentage and the quality of religion news that comes out of it.

Usually I'm not a huge fan of covering anniversaries since they are fairly obvious (read: easy for reporters) and 10 years seems like an arbitrary number. However, journalists could often pause more to give a little bit of context and perspective from the past and anniversaries often give them an excuse to do that. We have seen a few interesting religion items come up in the last week or so that we will be interested to see how they play out.

The first item that caught my attention was Eric Marrapodi's story for CNN on how clergy and formal prayers will not be included in the 9/11 service.

"The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature," Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in an e-mail to CNN.

"It has been widely supported for the past 10 years and 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."

I can imagine that much of New York's attention has been diverted by Hurricane Irene, but this sounds pretty interesting to me. The piece follows some coverage from the Wall Street Journal on how clergy in New York seem surprised by the decision. The CNN piece offers some rationale from Mayor Bloomberg.

"This cannot be political," Bloomberg told the radio audience. "That's why there's a poem or a quote or something that each one of the readers will read." He added there would be "no speeches whatsoever."

While he was talking about which officials would attend, he noted, "There's an awful lot of people that would like to participate but you just can't do that, once you open it up. So the argument here is it's elected officials and those who were there at the time and had some influence."

I find it slightly ironic that Bloomberg says that the event cannot be political when political officials are the ones leading it. The piece does a nice job of putting the ceremony in context of what officials have done at previous anniversaries.

There have been 10 ceremonies at ground zero in New York to pause and remember the events of 9/11, one six months after the attack and on September 11 each following year.

Spirituality and religion have been reserved for the moments of silence in those events.

As much as Bloomberg would like to keep anniversary events from becoming political, it's almost inevitable because that tends to be media outlet's emphasis. In contrast to this news item, President Obama plans to attend an interfaith prayer service at Washington National Cathedral the evening of 9/11. Of course, it'll be interesting to see who is invited and what is said.

The challenge for reporters is to find a way to cover 9/11 anniversary angles in fresh and interesting ways, and that includes not just covering the official schedule. ReligionLink offers a few ideas for reporters, and let us know if you find angles that stand out this early on.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Please respect our Commenting Policy