Published August 25, 2010
NEW YORK -- A steady rain dimmed the view from the top of the Empire State Building early this week, but nothing could dampen the red-hot controversy surrounding the decision by the building's management not to bathe the skyscraper's iconic tower in blue and white floodlights to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa.
On the eve of Thursday's rally to protest that decision, the management company got some support from an unlikely source – a coalition of groups representing "progressive Catholics" who have come out on the side of the building's owner, Anthony Malkin of Malkin Properties.
Catholics for Choice and several other liberal lay Catholic organizations endorsed a letter to Malkin supporting his decision and blasting The Catholic League's president, Bill Donohue, for mounting what they said was a "self-promotion campaign" in organizing the rally.
Donohue "is doing the opposite of what Mother Teresa ... would have wanted him to do," said David Nolan, director of communications for Catholics for Choice, a Washington-based group that "supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health," according to its website.
"Mother Teresa was a very humble woman ... she would look upon this campaign by the Catholic League as something that was the very opposite of how she lived her life," Nolan told FoxNews.com.
But Donohue pulled no punches in his response.
"You're talking about people who are pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage," he said. "They're in the wrong church.
"They're angry at the Catholic church. They're angry at me because I'm an outspoken Catholic spokesman, and they know we have some muscle. They have none. Like parasites, they kind of feed off of us ... but they're going to have no effect on me."
Donohue can be assured of that. Public opinion is squarely in his camp.
A few tourists seeking shelter from the rain in the building's lobby on Wednesday spoke out against the decision not to honor Mother Teresa as they snapped photos of the landmark's art deco interior.
"They should do it," said a man from Scranton, Pa., who didn't want to give his name. "She's more a humanitarian than a religious figure."
"I think it's wrong personally," said 52-year-old Ged Gibbons from the United Kingdom.
"She spent her whole life working with the poor and destitute."
The controversy began in May when the Catholic League, a lay religious and civil rights organization, applied for the lighting honor and was denied. The building's management said it turned down the request because they do not honor religious figures. Despite lobbying by Donohue and some members of the New York City Council, Malkin said the decision was irrevocable.
Donohue complained that other religious figures had been honored, including Pope John Paul II and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Malkin pointed out that John Paul II was honored in 2005, when the building was under a different management, and Martin Luther King's accomplishments are also celebrated with a national holiday.
David Van Biema, the lead writer on TIME magazine's commemorative book on Mother Teresa -- "The Life and Works of a Modern Saint -- said of Mother Teresa, "She herself would be embarrassed about the whole thing."
He said that Mother Teresa once saw a picture of herself and said half jokingly, "The soul should be let out of purgatory."
The irony, says Van Biema, is that the legal rights the previous management exercised to honor Pope John Paul II are the same rights that Malkin is using not to honor Mother Teresa. "This management made use of the same rights."
On the 15th floor of the Empire State Building this week, King's College, an evangelical institution, welcomed its new president Dinesh D'Souza, who was a domestic policy analyst in the Reagan administration and is the author of several bestselling books, including the recent "What's So Great About Christianity."
D'Souza said he just learned of the controversy and Thursday's rally, and he said this resembles the Ground Zero Mosque conflict, where there are two distinct questions being folded into one another, instead of being kept separate.
"You must distinguish between a 'right,' and how that right is exercised," he said.
"Do you have the right? Yes. Should you? That's a different question."
The Empire State Building announced it will shine "red, white and blue" Thursday night for Women's Equality Day in honor of the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.
But there will be sea of blue and white on the street in front of the building as the rally for Mother Teresa kicks off. There will also be the showing of Mother Teresa's colors on Times Square billboards, on the USS Intrepid Museum, and Brooklyn Borough Hall.
They will all be exercising their rights, under the same banner of freedom.