Michael Bloomberg and the Cleric-Free Zone

By Jack Kerwick

As the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 approaches, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg finds himself at the center of controversy.  As it turns out, it is the mayor’s decision to exclude clerics from participating in the commemorative ceremony scheduled for Sunday that has so incensed his critics.

Among the issues with which Americans are currently concerned, this one hardly even registers.  Still, while I personally do not believe that Bloomberg is deserving of the avalanche of criticism that some clerics and their supporters have poured down upon him, I confess to being at something of a loss regarding his reasons for omitting clergymen and women from the roster of speakers at the 9/11 commemoration.

There is but one rationale that Bloomberg has stated for his position: it is for the sake of the families of those who lost their lives on 9/11 around which this commemorative event will center.  There are a couple of problems with this line of reasoning.

First, while our hearts can’t but bleed for the thousands of our brethren and sisters who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, inasmuch as these attacks constituted a national tragedy, the event in question should most certainly not be designed solely or even primarily for the sake of family members: 9/11 ceremonies, whether they are held in New York or anywhere else, should aim at preventing the events of that infamous day from slipping from the collective consciousness of our nation. “We must never forget.”  These ceremonies should no more be held solely for the survivors of those who the attacks claimed than should our post 9/11 counter-terrorist measures—from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security to everything else—so enacted.

Second, even if the mayor’s premise regarding the objective of the 9/11 anniversary was correct, his conclusion does not follow.  How, any remotely reasonable person must ask himself, could the appearance of clerics on the dais impede to any extent the grieving process of the family members of those who lost their lives?  After all, the family members and the clergy are hardly mutually antagonistic groups that must at all costs be kept apart.

It isn’t just the forgoing considerations that raise questions regarding Bloomberg’s decision here.  That the mayor unabashedly supported the intensely controversial “Ground Zero Mosque,” and that he obstinately refused to consider the probability, or even the distinct possibility, that it was a Muslim who was responsible for the Times Square car bomb (that, thankfully, failed to detonate) combine to strengthen suspicions that Bloomberg just may be motivated by another agenda.

Right-leaning commentators have long remarked upon what they perceive as the militant secularism of the political left—a group to which Mayor Bloomberg belongs.  But I think this way of putting the matter isn’t quite correct.  It is, of course, true that there is no small number of leftists who find religion in all of its guises to be as false as it is destructive.  It is also true that there are leftists who despise religion because they recognize that, perhaps second only to the institution of the family, religion serves as a powerful buffer between the naked individual and an otherwise omnipotent government.

But in many instances, at least in contemporary American political life, it isn’t religion per se that leftists loathe.  Rather, it is those forms of religion that threaten to impede the advancement of their political agenda that they are determined to silence.  More specifically, it is most expressions of Christianity upon which leftists set their sights.

The reason for this should be obvious: those Christians who are politically active overwhelmingly endorse that party and those politicians who they (rightly or wrongly) associate with conservative causes. That is, when religion becomes a formidable political force, it tends not to work to the advantage of leftists.

However, in those instances when it appears that the left has an opportunity to exploit religion for its own purposes, it wastes no time in doing so.  The very same left-wing Democratic politicians who inexhaustibly caution us against violating “the separation between Church and State,” religion and government, are all too eager to visit black churches while on the campaign trail.  And the very same left-wing Democrats who, for the sake of “tolerance,” proudly proclaim their resolve to further abortion rights in spite of their “personal” opposition to it, are unsparing in their allusions to the Bible when such invocations promise to facilitate their redistributive schemes for “the poor.”

Unfortunately, we are left speculating as to what Bloomberg’s real reasons are for excluding clerics, for his stated reason, as we’ve noted, makes no sense.


Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, Jack Kerwick, holds a BA in religious studies and philosophy from Wingate University, a MA in philosophy from Baylor University, a Ph.D. in philosophy from Temple University, and is currently professor of philosophy at several schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Mr. Kerwick writes from the classical liberal perspective inspired by Edmund Burke. He blogs at www.jackkerwick.com. You can contact him at [email protected]