Empire State Building Snubs Mother Teresa

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A controversy is raging over a decision by the Empire State Building to refuse a request to light the famous skyscraper on August 26 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

“They’ve done as much for dog shows, Mariah Carey, and even the 60th anniversary of communist China. But for Mother Teresa, they say no,” writes Danielle Bean of the National Catholic Register.

Not only have they said no, Bean reports, but they faxed their refusal to the Catholic League, the originator of the request for the lighting, and did so in the form of an unsigned letter. In addition, they are refusing to answer any questions put to them by the Catholic League or the press.

lluminating the 102-story building to mark important dates, occasions or personalities, is a long-time tradition in New York. In addition, every year, the building is lit with colored lights to celebrate religious holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah.

Requests for a lighting involve filling out an application which is evaluated by the privately owned Empire State Building Company. According to their website, they consider a lighting to be a “privilege not an entitlement.” All decisions are made “at the sole discretion of the (company’s) ownership and management.”

Anthony Malkin, owner of the Empire State Building, released a statement yesterday explaining that the reason why the company refused the request is because it “has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations.”

His explanation did not satisfy Catholic League president Bill Donohue.

“Malkin is either misinformed or he is lying. Here’s the proof: When John Cardinal O’Connor died in 2000, the Empire State Building was lighted in red and white; in 2005, when Pope John Paul II died, the tower lights were extinguished in his honor; also in 2005, the tower was aglow in yellow, red and blue in tribute to the 125th anniversary of the Salvation Army; and every year the colors red, black and green are lit in memory of Rev. Martin Luther King. In other words, there is no policy barring religious figures or organizations from being honored.”

He goes on to explain that since he first applied to the Empire State Building for the lighting on February 2 of this year, he has spoken to two employees of the company, neither of whom mentioned any existing policy against lighting the building for a religious figure.

“Malkin is obviously lying about his so-called policy, and for some reason harbors an animus against Mother Teresa,” Donohue said in a press release issued today. “He owes it to everyone to come clean and tell the truth about what makes him really tick. Like a coward, he refuses to debate me on TV. Meantime, we are going ahead with our demonstration on August 26, and will not yield unless he comes to his senses.”

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