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September 10th, 2012
06:15 PM ET

Atheists continue battle against World Trade Center cross at memorial

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Eleven years after the World Trade Center attack, the billion dollar memorial and museum dedicated to the victims of 9/11 is just half that - a memorial without an operating museum.

And though a dispute between New York City’s mayor and New York’s governor is responsible for delaying the opening, a separate legal battle is aimed at blocking one museum exhibit in particular: a large cross made of one of the twin tower’s T-beams that became a national symbol in the days after the 2001 attacks.

A national group called American Atheists is suing the museum to stop the display of the cross, arguing that a religious symbol has no place in a memorial that’s backed by public funds and that is supposed to serve as a monument to victims of many different religions - and to those who had no religion at all.

“It is important that it not be displayed to the exclusion of everyone else,” said David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, which first filed suit in July 2011. “This case is about inclusion, it is not about the elimination of religion, it is about the inclusion of everyone.”

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum says it included the cross because it “became an icon of hope and comfort throughout the recovery in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.”

The case has gained national attention and has become important to many atheists and religious Americans alike. While atheist blogs and publications have pushed this case, spearheaded by American Atheists, conservative religious groups such as the American Center for Law and Justice have cited it as an example of growing anti-Christian sentiment and have filed an amicus brief in support of his display.

In light of all the attention, one legal expert says the atheists’ legal case is “absurd.”

“I think the odds of a court ordering the cross removed are literally zero,” said Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s legal analyst. “The museum is not building a place for religious worship, they are preserving a historical relic that was meaningful to a great many people and part of the story of 9/11.”

Toobin compared the cross’s inclusion in the museum with the many other instances in which government-funded museums feature religious artwork.

“When the government is surveying a historic development, the government does not have to exclude religions images and artifacts from its displays,” Toobin said.

The 17-foot cross was discovered by Frank Silecchia, a construction worker who helped with the clean up and recovery at ground zero. The cross is a steel T-beam, a common architectural device used in the building of the World Trade Center towers.

The case hasn’t gotten anywhere since it was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The lawsuit names prominent government officials, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both of whom play a role in the deciding how the World Trade Center site is used.

Caught in a funding battle between Bloomberg on the one hand and Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the other, it is unclear about when the museum will open. The memorial opened last year, on September 12, after families of those killed on September 11 marked the 10-year anniversary at the memorial.

The museum did not respond to a request for comment.

In documents submitted to the court, the museum defends the inclusion of the cross, saying that “the 9/11 Museum is an independent nonprofit corporation. Its curators’ decisions to display particular objects, such as the Artifact, in the Museum are not state actions to which Constitutional protections apply.”

In the same documents, the museum argues that even if constitutional protections apply, “there is no legal authority for the proposition that a museum is prohibited from displaying an item with historical, cultural or artistic significance merely because that item also has religious significance.”

Silverman rejects that argument. “The argument that this is not a religious symbol is asinine and arrogant,” he says. “They want 9/11 to appear to be an attack on Christianity, and it was not.”

Shortly after plans for a 9/11 museum started to be worked out, Silecchia, the construction worker, and the Rev. Brian Jordan, a priest who ministered to firefighters and emergency responders at ground zero, began to press to the inclusion of the World Trade Center cross in the memorial and museum.

“First of all, it is an artifact of ground zero,” Jordan told the Irish Echo, a small publication in New York, in 2002. “And secondly, it is sacred ground, for God’s sake.”

Jordan declined interview requests, saying in an e-mail that “after a careful period of reflection, I have decided not to make any public comment at this time.”

In the same interview, Jordan argued that the reason it should be included is because most of the victims were Christians - “the plurality of which were Catholic,” Jordan said. The cross was first displayed near the edge of ground zero, until on October 5, 2006, the cross was moved to St. John’s Church, where it sat on the corner of Barclay and Vesey streets.

Jordan’s efforts for the cross’ inclusion were successful, when on July 23, 2011, Jordan blessed the cross at a ceremony in Zuccotti Park before it was transported into its permanent setting in the museum.

“After a 10-year journey of faith, the World Trade Center Cross has finally found its home,”  Jordan said in a statement at the time.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • New York • United States

soundoff (5,753 Responses)
  1. Tina

    Atheists are evil people. Good reason to stay far away from them.... Scary!

    September 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Colin

      Actually Tina, you’ll find that most (ex-Christian) atheists are atheists for one or more of the following reasons:

      The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.

      The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.

      The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.

      Throwing the three together into one being cubes its (already dispositive) implausibility.

      We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe. The idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to Earth to talk to a nomadic group of Jews about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine (while ignoring the rest of the 200 million people then alive) makes no sense to us. Did God make the Jews or did the Jews make God?

      The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.

      The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, [the Christian] god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?

      We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.

      We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”. Likewise, we know how all faiths evolve, morph and change over time and do not think we were lucky enough to have been born in the one generation that “got it right.”

      We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the pre Dark Ages Mediterranean.

      Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away,” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more näive, timid minds among us.

      We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.

      “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, or even a relevant point, as in inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them, or even evidence for their existence. It is impossible to prove a negative in this context.

      When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, a talking snake, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.

      It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Mao Zedong was a great man because The Little Red Book says so, and the reason I believe The Little Red Book is that it was written by Mao Zedong, who was a great man.” Do you even have the slightest idea of how your Bible was compiled over the centuries or who decided what to include and what to exclude and on what grounds? Can you even name one of hundred plus authors who contributed to it? One of the many people who decided what got in and what didn’t?

      To be bluntly honest, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.

      So, before you proudly proclaim that you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, simply because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine as a child, you might like to reflect upon the overwhelming enormity of the claims you are about to make and the complete paucity of evidence that underwrites those claims.

      We may be politically clumsy and even socially inept at times, but by god, we're right.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • BigDog

      Acutally Colin, you will find that most atheists are merely people who dont want to be accountable to a holy God, so that they can continue on with living their sinful lifestyle in manner they see fit.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Alex

      @Colin-
      ::applaud:: Well-put.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @BigDog

      Actually, I agree with @Colin here. So, I guess not 'all' atheists are as you 'think' they are.

      Peace...

      September 10, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • memoe

      Our children graduate from Yale, Harvard, Cambridge and we are perceived dolts after all our educational dollars spent on their educations.
      That's a hoot!

      September 10, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @BigDog

      *apologies*... you did say 'most.' However, it doesn't change the validity of my post.

      Peace...

      September 10, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • Just Me

      Sure are, I agree 1000%

      September 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Just Me

      Colin – Nothing makes sense to a closed minded atheist who are spiritually blind and with knowledge whatsoever.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Splifferton

      @ JustMe and Bigdog. Good to see followers of Christ judging people.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  2. naturechaplain

    No, this is NOT a religious symbol. . .it only honors Catholics. Umm. Whoops. Kind of crucifies the whole intent of a secular, pluralistic America doesn't it?

    September 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Tina

      USA is a Christian country.. get over it your communist retard

      September 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Splifferton

      @Tina Nice to see you following the tenants of your Savior by calling people retarded communists.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  3. pw1121

    This is where we need a good, strong politician to take lead of the situation and make a decision. In these arguments there will never be anyone happy no matter what compromises one makes. This thing will go on and on and on unless someone steps in and says, this is the way it's going to be; if you don t like it, swim to Cuba. The US has got so wound up in political correctness that it fails so see the practicality of things.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • End Religion

      It is most practical to live by fact, reason and logic rather than magic.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:40 am |
  4. :)

    Cross = Faith, comfort, hope & beauty.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Swastika, Cross = hinduism, racism.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  5. Dean from Kansas

    This country needs more good decent Christian folks to stand up to these immoral atheists. They should not be near our children, they should not work in our businesses. Maybe we could set up some kind of reservation for them to live in. I would vote to subsidise it just to get rid of them. They are all mentally retarded.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Colin

      So Scarecrow, are you accompanying Dorothy all the way back to her farm?

      September 10, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Keith

      Folks like you are exactly why the Baptist in 1776 insisted that there be a clause for freedom of religion. America is in more danger from folks like you than the atheists.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Dean from Kansas

      @Colin

      Well aren't you clever. I suppose you are talking about the Wizard of Oz because I hail from Kansas. I will have you know I have never allowed my children to watch that filthy movie.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Dean from Kansas

      @Keith

      You can say that if you wish, but sadly you know I am right. And so does God. Get saved partner.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • Keith

      What an arrogant stupid thing to say.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Dean from Kansas

      (Wizard of Oz= filthy movie)

      POE's Law on you ?

      Peace...

      September 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Splifferton

      I'm guessing you aren't just intolerant to Aethiests...

      September 10, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Nick L

      Ah yes. Nothing like a good god fearing christian to suggest that atheists are immoral but then suggest that they be rounded up and put in camps. Then you suggest they are mentally impaired. Even the scarecrow is a rocket scientist in comparison to you.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  6. memoe

    What has happened to adult perspectives of life. We let Juviniles in on an adult conversation. Would never have happened in my day...

    September 10, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • memoe

      I was told as a naive juvenile you are better seen than heard. Why do we let these dolts that haven’t graduated high school interject?

      September 10, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  7. GOD is Great

    Surprised they don't sue national holocaust museum receiving public money :o

    September 10, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • James PDX

      Not the same thing. You reached way too far to try to find an argument for your side.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  8. Denise

    I have to say Toobin is right. I'm an Athiest and it does not bother me in the least that this cross would be displayed for it truly is a part of the 9/11 site. Enough already, American Athiests – pull you case back and be done with your ridiculous lawsuit – it is disrespectful to those who value the building beam as more than a cross, but a testament to the Towers themselves. Get over it, please.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Colin

      As an atheist, I agree.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • James PDX

      As an agnostic, I couldn't care less.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Just Me

      As a woman of God, praise Christ, amen!

      September 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  9. TheAlaskaCurmudgeon

    As an atheist, all I can say about this one is, "Oh for God's sake."

    Let it go, atheists.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Just Me

      Thank you, well said!

      September 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  10. George

    The cross is part of our heritage. If you do not respect that view, then your argument is pure hypocrisy and religious intolerance. It is not about public funding of religion; it is about history, remembrance, and honoring. Atheism is a belief system and the forced absence of traditional religious symbols is promoting the non-belief system of atheism by a government and minor group.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Keith

      That is a specious argument. I do agree with you but you have made your point with a senseless argument. As someone who would normally side with the Atheists against Evangelical Christians I can say that I agree that the symbol should remain. I also believe that since there is no way to argue that it isn't a Christian symbol that anyone with a loved one lost should be granted a special place in the memorial, if they are Jews, Hindi's, Muslims, atheists or what ever.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  11. Azul

    Freedom from Religiion. Live it. Protect it.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • In God We Trust

      Dear Stalin

      Thank God that is not written in the US const itution.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @In God We Trust

      " Thank God that is not written in the US const itution. "

      Me too... things like God, Jesus, Christ, Christianity, Bible, Christian, Christian Nation.

      Amen brother ! :D

      Peace...

      September 10, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  12. Scott

    How about those muslims who also died on 9/11 can they have a crecent or how about those Jews who also died, how about a Star David?

    September 10, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • In God We Trust

      Muslims did 9/11 mainly because of the Jewish state of Israel.

      No Jews / Israel = NO 9/11
      No Muslims = NO 9/11

      Now go F off

      September 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • naturechaplain

      Exactly. Thank you. Watch out with the reason and common sense though. Crosses tend to bring out the people with nails.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Josh

      I'm sure if they found a star of david, they would include it. I doubt that design is used for the beams in the wtc buildings. A islam crecent would be blantly offensive; muslims attacked the wtc. The koran calls for the killing of non muslims!

      September 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  13. Ticked off

    Last time I checked, this country was based on christian beliefs. If you don't like it go "F" yourself, or go back to where you came from or go "F" yourself. I am a super religious person, but that is what this country was founded on. Time to stop being so politically correct in this country. If you don't like it you can leave

    September 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Ungodly Discipline

      Or not.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      If you are a hindu, ignorant to fact, truth absolute, USA was created on truth absolute, undivided God, not hinduism, absurdity of hindu pagan 50/50. get some education hindu, ignorant, USA has nothing to do with hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism labeled as Christianity. visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/ to learn some thing right.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • James PDX

      This country isn't based on ANY religion's beliefs. It is a secular country. Get that through your head. It's common knowledge.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Keith

      What a good Christian !!!!!!!!!!!! Folks like you are why many of us "that believe" are glad there is a clause in our laws to protect us from you.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Dave

      Dude, at my church we switched from coffee to tea, and no one has to use the F word or insult others. Give it a try.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Mark Rogers

      Nice comment for a self professed religious person.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Splifferton

      This country was NOT founded on christian beliefs, it was founded on freedom of religion. If you can't figure that out I recommend you go 'F' off. Damned Christians (evangelical, mostly) have a persecution complex, you would think they got stuck on a cross or something.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Mike

      Wow. Your anger over your Christian viewa are exactly the type of I see daily and that woke me up from my religious upbringing years ago.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Sumtahms

      I see your post is full of love and compassion for the others. Congratulations, you are exactly the reason why people are fleeing that farce called religion (especially Christianity)

      September 10, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Anvil of Reality

      "If you don't like it go "F" yourself, or go back to where you came from or go "F" yourself."

      "I am a super religious person,..."

      Your parents/deity of choice/fellow super religious persons must be proud.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  14. CS

    @Veritae

    "You will have to show that God did not create a universe in a naturally sustained closed system."

    Science hopes to find truth. It may take many hundreds of generations if it can be done at all. But there is truth out there. And if it is a god, so be it. It matters not to me as it has no effect on my life. I am just curious. I wish I could know in my lifetime.

    I think what is obvious is the Judeo Christian god is an old myth. Whatever force is out there is certainly not likely to be the anamorphic super being from a man-made book of stories.

    I imagine a multi-verse where scale is completely relative. The very fabric of reality could very well be spongy and wiggly and invisible to us. Fun! It is also very likely in my mind that the big bang that created this universe was fueled by explainable forces “behind” what we can perceive and is probably common place.

    One thing is for sure. We don’t know anything. But it is fun finding out what we can in the short time we have. And I know this, if it exists, it is not supernatural. Following that logic, nothing can be supernatural, because if it exists, it is natural.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • BigDog

      Your posturing as a man with scientific knowledge seems like just that posturing.............

      Anyone who hangs their hat on the big bang theory as a plausible explanation for the creation of the universe, either, is not a student of the sciences, or lives in total disregard for science. If I told you that thousands of pieces of timber were set in motion by a tornado in a lumberyard and this ultimately resulted in the amazing design and complexity of the house you live in, you would think this was absurd to say the very least. Or throwing a wad of watch parts into the air, and they hit the ground in the form of a Rolex,equally absurd......................

      September 10, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • CS

      @BigDog

      You do not really seem capable of having this conversation, but thanks for trying.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Splifferton

      This is the problem, people like BigDog do nothing but destroy our nations great scientific foundation. They don't need to discover they already found it, they don't need to learn because they already know it.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  15. Seansa

    Stay classy Atheists. I wonder if they will sue to take the stars off the flag next because it reminds them of the scary Jews.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • James PDX

      They were made the promise of separation of church and state. How many times must this promise be broken before they are allowed to take action?

      September 10, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  16. Colin

    The fact that this is one of probably 10,000 simple cross beams in the building and that Christians seize on it like desperate supplicants should be a reason for we atheists to support its inclusion. It sorta speaks for itself about how religion causes one to interpret perfectly natural events as reaffirmations of belief. Meanwhile the 3,000 dead was simply (presumably) God moving in mysterious ways.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I'm guess it's more like 300k, but I'm not an architect.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • balee5

      Excellent point Colin! They can make anything special symbol. They have to. That way they don't think their as nuts as they really are!!

      September 10, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Splifferton

      I think there were a couple pieces of toast that could be added to that exhibit.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  17. In God We Trust

    Why don't they sue American holocaust museum when the federal gives them public money from taxpayers?

    No, because Silverman is a Jew.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  18. Ed G

    This AA organization does NOT represent ANYBODY BUT A FEW PEOPLE!!
    They do not represent me or most of the other atheists in America!

    But if government money is going to build and support this little religious shrine, then I hope they win!
    But they didn't ask me, did they? ANYONE can start an organization and call it whatever they want!
    Just look at some of the secret superpacs and the fake-named organizations behind them!

    September 10, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  19. Jesse Pinkman

    I say keep the cross. It has been there since the start. It's a memorial symbol just like the American flag is. It should be part of the museum even if just to show that it was there and meant something to so many people. Even if you are an atheist you cannot deny the fact that the cross can symbolize a grave marker and does not always have to be associated with Christianity.
    KEEP THE CROSS!

    September 10, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Relevant Username

      Don't you have some meth heads to kill with an ATM?

      September 10, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  20. C-Rod

    But atheists are represented at the memorial too. There is a space with nothing in it to represent them.

    September 10, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Jennifer

      that would be for Nihilists not atheists

      September 10, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Relevant Username

      Even as an atheist, that made me lol a little. Bravo.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • 11STI

      Jennifer... it was the perfect comment. Try not to be too ANALytical.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Mayflower

      You win at life. This is great!

      September 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • James PDX

      Sure, but what about us agnostics? Was there a giant, steel girder that was twisted into the shape of a question mark?

      September 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • noillusion

      The Buddha taught that emptiness is fullness. No identifications = inner peace. So, being zero is nirvana.

      September 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Keith

      JamesPDX – wins the comment of the day contest.

      "For the Agnostics” Was there a piece of metal bent into the shape of a question mark?

      September 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.