Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum
By ELISSA GOOTMAN
In the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, some workers and mourners at the World Trade Center site seized upon a cross-shaped steel beam found amid the rubble as a symbol of faith and hope.
For the past five years, the 17-foot-tall cross was displayed outside a nearby Catholic church. On Saturday it was moved again, to the site of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, where it is to be in the permanent collection.
But the move quickly provoked a lawsuit from American Atheists, a nonprofit group based in New Jersey. It argued that because the cross is a religious symbol of Christianity and the museum is partly government financed and is on government property, the cross’s inclusion in the museum violates the United States Constitution and state civil rights law. The lawsuit, in turn, provoked the ire of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public interest law firm, as well as others.
Now, the dispute over the ‘World Trade Center cross’ is becoming the latest in a string of heated conflicts over how to memorialize the Sept. 11 attacks. It comes less than two months before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and in the wake of a feverish debate over the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque within blocks of the trade center site.
Marc D. Stern, who is the associate general counsel of the American Jewish Committee and has long studied church-state issues, said the lawsuit presented ‘an extra-difficult case.’
The atheists’ lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, lists multiple defendants, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
‘The challenged cross constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on governmental land,’ the lawsuit charged.
David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said the suit’s goal was either the removal of the cross or what he called ‘equal representation.’
‘They can allow every religious position to put in a symbol of equal size and stature, or they can take it all out, but they don’t get to pick and choose,’ Mr. Silverman said.
And if atheists could put a symbol in the museum, what would it be? Perhaps an atom, Mr. Silverman suggested, ‘because we’re all made out of atoms,’ or maybe a depiction of a firefighter carrying a victim. ‘It would be about helping,’ he said. ‘It would not be derogatory against any religion or anybody.’
‘We have a responsibility at the museum to use the authentic artifacts that really came from the site itself to tell the story of not only what happened on 9/11, but the nine-month recovery period,’ he said, adding that the cross was an artifact with ‘very true meaning.’
‘It provided comfort to hundreds and hundreds of people who were working in some of the most hellish conditions imaginable,’ he said.
The Rev. Brian J. Jordan, a Franciscan priest who began holding Mass by the cross in September 2001, described the lawsuit as ‘the bizarre ramblings of angry minds.’
‘One person might pray in front of it; another person would just ignore it; another person might say, ‘What’s this all about?’ ’ he said.
The American Center for Law and Justice said it planned to file a brief in opposition to the atheist group’s lawsuit. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the group, said the suit was ‘bordering on the absurd.’
He pointed to parts of the lawsuit naming four individual atheists, who are described as having suffered ‘dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack.’
‘They want their day in court,’ Mr. Sekulow said. ‘I don’t think it’s going to be a long day.’
Full story is here, I’d encourage you to give it a read.
One of the Atheists involved in the lawsuit appeared on Fox News awhile back. The response was predictable. Here are some of the replies received on the Fox Facebook page after his appearance:
Nail them to that cross then display it
I think we should hang the leader of that group on the cross with nails through their hands and feet, place a crown of thorns upon their head, RAM a spear through their side all after being whipped and beaten publicly! Just so they can endure what Christ did so they understand the sacrifice behind what that cross symbolizes
(Note: The above comment got 19 “likes”)
Shoot ‘em. At least we know where they are going.
Stupid atheists. I hope God kills them all.
Any court or lawyer who takes this case should be hung!!!!!! If you look at some of the people who are atheists they are all miserable looking because they don’t have any faith in anything. You all should go live in another country, you have taken enough of my rights away.
You can see the rest of them here.
As a Christian these people disgust me. They seriously make me feel awful about my faith. The only thing that makes me keep at it is my belief what Jesus himself said and did, NOT what his followers do.
My own father is an atheist and he is certainly not “miserable looking”. He’s happily married and enjoying an early retirement and, if I may so, he did a damned good job in raising me and my brother too.
As for the lawsuit, I can understand where the Atheists are coming from. I honestly don’t see the problem with displaying the cross along with other religious emblems because not all the WTC victims are Muslim. The idea of allowing only the cross and nothing else strikes me as extremely theocratic and bigoted.
I appreciate the symbolism of the cross and think it’s an important remnant from the WTC site that should be on display somewhere, but the negative reaction to the issues raised by the group of atheists is completely disgusting.