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Religious Leaders Protest Ban On Clergy-Led Prayer At 9/11 Commemoration

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A police car sits at a security check-point outside St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway in preparation for the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on September 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

A police car sits at a security check-point outside St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway in preparation for the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on September 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Religious leaders are protesting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to include a clergy-led prayer in the city’s ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

About two dozen ministers gathered Saturday in front of St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan. The group planned to walk to the edge of ground zero and hold a prayer service there.

The Rev. Rob Schenck notes that clergy members ministered to people in New York after the attacks. He says it was hurtful not to include religious leaders in the ceremony.

“Many of us served here after the attacks, and we know the importance of prayer and the presence of clergy,” said Schenck, an evangelical pastor. “To exclude them from the ceremony was hurtful.”

Bloomberg has said he wants to keep the focus of Sunday’s ceremony on victims’ families. Organizers say the event will include spiritual readings and six minutes of silence for personal reflection or prayer.

“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,” Evelyn Erskine, a Bloomberg spokeswoman said earlier this month.

Fernando Cabrera, a New York City councilman and pastor of a church in the Bronx, said he had collected 100,000 names for a petition asking for a formal prayer.

“The American public wants prayer at this event,” Cabrera said. “They could have had different faiths offering prayer, and it would have been a beautiful message to send to the world.”

But several New York religious leaders have said they understand the mayor’s position.

“I just think a decision was made to give priority to the families. If this means more families will be attending, I think all of us can accept that,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.

St. Paul’s Chapel, which is located just yards from the World Trade Center site, is where the rescue and recovery workers slept and took refuge on 9/11 and in the days, weeks and months after.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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