Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City made headlines when he expressly excluded clergy-led prayer from the planned 10th anniversary 9/11 Memorial Service at Ground Zero. It troubled many Americans that a prominent public official would ignore the profound role the faith community played in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet, thanks to the intervention of two American Presidents who were invited, the memorial service ultimately did reflect our nation’s religious heritage.
Following remarks by Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama stood to offer solace to the families of 9/11 victims who were gathered. His entire speech was taken straight from Psalm 46, a passage cited in difficult times by courageous leaders from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Reverend Billy Graham used this text in his memorable sermon at the National Cathedral on September 14, 2001.
Former President George W. Bush briefly spoke at the Ground Zero memorial service as well. He pointedly acknowledged the American tradition of faith, as he echoed the words of Abraham Lincoln: “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost.”
President Obama’s policy record on supporting religious liberty, including freedom of conscience for chaplains and health care professionals, has been lacking. His decision to invoke our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage in the public square, when organizers insisted on a nonreligious program, is a recognition of the continuing significance of religious practice for the common good—and should be followed up in policy deed.