If you’ve been reading AVftR for awhile, you may recall a post I did back in February about a controversy over whether it was legal to put Mother Teresa on the face of a U.S. postage stamp. Sounded reasonable, given the decades of humanitarian work and self-sacrifice given by the woman. But, those who objected had the law on their side.
Now, a similar issue has made it into the news, at least in the New York City metro area, but this time there’s no law to justify the apparent discrimination.
As residents and others familiar with NYC know, every sunset to midnight the uppermost floors of the Empire State Building are illuminated by an elaborate system of colored, external lights. The colors & pattern vary, depending on what (if anything) is being honored. It’s a tradition since 1964, and anyone can submit a request to have something or someone celebrated or honored in this way — from a Yankees win to a favored charity to Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday (in blue, of course). (Last year they even lit up the ESB in red & yellow in honor of the 60th anniversary of the communist take over of China! (see image to left)) Such lightings are, of course, a privilege rather than a right, and decisions are made “at the sole discretion of the ownership and management.”
A few months ago, the lay advocacy group Catholic League submitted an application to have Mother Teresa’s life & legacy honored in blue and white this August 26 — what would be the beatified nun’s 100th birthday. They have even submitted a supporting petition with 40,000 signatures. But, for some reason, the request has been rejected. According to the ESB’s owner, real estate mogul Anthony E. Malkin,
The Empire State Building celebrates many cultures and causes in the world community with iconic lightings, and has a tradition of lightings for the religious holidays of Easter, Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), Hanukkah, and Christmas, [but it] has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations.”
“Wait a second!,” protests the Catholic League. MLK, Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal John O’Connor have all been posthumously honored by the ESB. So, what gives? Why not Mother Teresa? The NYC Council just this week announced their official disagreement with the “boneheaded” decision (as per City Councilman Vallone), too. But, no response has been forthcoming by Malkin or his spokesman, Daniel Hernandez Lyon.
I am not Roman Catholic nor a devotee of Mother Teresa’s work, so this isn’t a sectarian matter for me. But, I do appreciate what the woman did. So, I am trying to figure out the inconsistency here. True, these other religious figures were not your average priest or pastor down the street, their influence was certainly much more than local and not limited to religious circles or purely religious concerns. But, all of these attributes apply to Mother Teresa, as well. The issue can’t be exclusivity to Americans, either, because the Pope was Polish by birth. (Mother Teresa was Albanian.) And there have arguably been much less-deserving people & causes that have been celebrated by the ESB lights.
I know, some of you are thinking that Mother Teresa would not want the attention or adulation, and that the Bible teaches that God’s servants are to give the credit to Jesus, etc. And, you’re correct on both accounts. But, that isn’t really the point. The point, rather, is about what appears to be a frivolous decision that smacks of religious and/or some other type of undue discrimination.
There are no federal regulations to point to, in this case. Just a private owner with “a specific policy against,” which can apparently be disregarded at the whim and “sole discretion of the ownership and management.” They do have the right, true. (The American Atheists and the New York Atheists groups have, of course, voiced their support of the decision. On the other hand, some atheist individuals think it’s stupid.) And, maybe there’s a valid and reasonable explanation. But, if so, why hasn’t it been given? Not surprisingly, protests are already being organized. Whatever personal or business(?) reasons Mr. Malkin may have for upholding the rejection of this application, I think he needs to, at the very least, look at this from a PR perspective, issue an apology, and order a top-notch lighting celebration on August 26th.