The Empire State Building Dimmed Its Lights for the Pope in 2005


Some politicians and religious groups are still baffled over the refusal of the Empire State Building's owners to honor the 100th birthday of Mother Teresa with their pretty lights. The Catholic League's Bill Donohue sees anti-Catholic bias (that's kind of his thing, though), while Archbishop Timothy Dolan simply wonders, "How can anyone be against Mother Teresa?" But finally today, owner Anthony Malkin, who had previously rejected the Catholic League's request without explaining why, released a statement clarifying his position:

"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, Hanukah, and Christmas. As a privately owned building, ESB has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations."

That's an interesting policy — lighting up for religious holidays is fine, lighting up for religious figures is not. But hey, they're the owners, and they can make whatever policy they desire. Is that really the policy, though? Consider an Agence France Presse report from April 7, 2005, when the building was under the same ownership as now (via Nexis):

The lights of New York's Empire State Building will be dimmed Thursday night in a solemn tribute to Pope John Paul II on the eve of his funeral.

The skyscraper's illuminations, which often change colour to reflect various events and national days, will be darkened at 9:27pm — the time of his death in the Vatican on April 2.

An Empire State Building spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, said the lights would remain dark for the whole night.

"We solemnly honor this great man of peace and the legacy he leaves for future generations," Rubenstein said.

Apparently there was no issue with honoring the Pope back then, and "figures" don't get much more religious than the Pope. Granted, this was a "dimming," not a "lighting," but the sentiment is the same.

Owner: No ESB Lighting For Religious Figures [CBS 2]

Update: As Donohue points out in a press release, the Empire State Building was also lit up for the death of Cardinal John O'Connor in 2000. However, the building was under the ownership of Donald Trump at that time — though the master lease was still held by the Malkins' Empire State Building Associates, so who knows who was making the lighting decisions. It's all very complicated.