On September 11, 2001, the first official casualty was Reverend Mychal Judge. He was killed as the South Tower collapsed and debris flew into the lobby of the North Tower where he stood. His body was carried out of the rubble by members of the New York Police Department and Fire Department of New York.
In the end, 343 firefighters and paramedics died that day. 23 NYPD officers were killed.
And yet, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, neither the clergy nor the NYPD/FDNY are invited to the memorial service taking place at Ground Zero.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his decision to exclude clergy and first responders, saying that the limited space at Ground Zero was being reserved for the families of the victims. (There is, however, space for many politicians and elected officials to attend.) And while this group certainly deserves to be present, so does the group that put their own lives on the line, not only on September 11, 2001 but for months afterwards as the recovery effort proceeded. Bloomberg also stated that first responders have never been formally invited to the Ground Zero ceremonies, which is technically correct — but in years past, the first responders have always simply shown up.
The exclusion of clergy is another matter. The intent for the ceremony to be fully non-denominational removes the uncomfortable religion angle from the event — if you include Christian prayers, do you include Muslim? — and yet clergy, too, gave their lives while helping others on 9/11, and have spent countless hours since consoling and counselling those left behind.
The NYPD is holding their own ceremony of commemoration at Lincoln Center on September 8, where both officers and clergy will be present and prayers offered. But ultimately on the morning of September 11, on the anniversary of the date they ran in to the burning buildings others were fleeing in order to try to save lives, the first responders and those who tried to comfort them will not be permitted to pay their respects on that same piece of ground.
Photo credit: ADL999 on Flickr