In planning a ceremony to mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has kept a policy observed in previous years and declined to invite religious leaders to speak at the events, which a spokesman says is to make sure “the focus remains on the families.” Of course, the Religious Right is now apoplectic and using their outrage at Bloomberg as their latest fundraising tool.
The Traditional Values Coalition emailed members today pleading for donations to stop Bloomberg’s attempts “to exterminate expressions of faith” and set up a fundraising page warning that “Islamists Continue Conquest of New York City…Islamists are spiking the football at Ground Zero! All while Mayor Bloomberg bans faith from New York’s 9/11 ceremonies?!”
The American Center for Law and Justice, the right-wing legal outlet founded by Pat Robertson and led by Jay Sekulow, launched a petition demanding Bloomberg change his “damaging policy now” and include clergymen and prayer in the event. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said it was a “travesty that Mayor Bloomberg is so confused and clueless about America’s history, and so confused and clueless about the threat Islam poses to the West,” arguing that prayer should be included in the ceremonies but restricted to only Christian and Jewish clergy.
The Family Research Council has its own petition and prayer alert to oppose Bloomberg’s “shocking assault on religious liberty,” calling on members to pray to “Help the Mayor see that he has made a mistake and reverse his decision. Stir the families who will attend the 9/11 memorial service to insist that You, Lord, be honored there”:
The beginning of America’s precipitous moral decline can be traced, statistically, to 1962, when atheist Madeleine Murray O’Hare’s [sic] legal assault resulted in prayer being removed from public schools. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld prayer in public ceremonies. Bloomberg’s behavior is not a matter of legal philosophy, dullness or insensitivity; it is a deliberate defiance and insult to people of faith across America.
More important to Bible believers, it is an insult to God upon whom our nation depends for our safety. Amid unprecedented natural disasters, economic calamity, homeland threats, wars abroad, troubles in our families and schools, etc., we must not insult God.
The FRC referenced the 1962 Supreme Court case Engel v. Vitale and the 1963 Abington v. Schempp, in which Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an atheist, and Edward Schempp, a Unitarian Universalist, sued against laws in their states that required their children to partake in religious exercises like Bible study and reading the Lord’s Prayer. The Court found such policies a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.
Many in the Religious Right see the cases as the critical juncture where America turned its back on God. Pat Robertson writes in The New Millennium:
On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court ruled in a case titled Engle v. Vitale [sic] that state-sponsored prayer could not be said in public school rooms. On June 17, 1963, the court ruled in the case of Abington v. Schempp that the Holy Bible could not be read to students in classrooms.
Acting on behalf of all the citizens of the United States, our government has officially insulted Almighty God and has effectively taken away from all public school children any opportunity for even the slightest acknowledgment of God’s existence. By rejecting Him, we have made the Protector and Champion of the United States his enemy.
The events that followed are not coincidence. On November 22, 1963, less than six months after the Bible-reading decision, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Within two years after that decision, America was massively embroiled in its second most painful war, which decimated our treasure, our servicemen, and our national resolve.
Robertson goes on to blame Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis, stagflation and the Iranian revolution on the rulings.
David Barton got his start in Religious Right politics by authoring the booklet, What Happened in Education?, where he argues that the removal of school prayer caused SAT scores to plummet. Barton claimed that the two cases represented “the first occasion in national recorded history that the public inclusion of God in academic endeavors had been officially prohibited,” as the only event “corresponding to the time of the beginning of the downturn in scores was the banning of God and of religious principles from schools.” He concludes by urging schools to reintroduce explicitly Christian teachings if they want to reverse the trend.
It’s interesting that the FRC brought up the school prayer cases: both the case of school prayer and clergy participating in the September 11th anniversary ceremonies show the Religious Right trying to gin up panic over a supposed but not actual infringement on religious freedom, and then warning of divine punishment when they don’t get their way.