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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. AverageJoe76

    The American Atheists need to pick their battles better. This was not a good fight to pick. Seems like they just come out swinging at anything religion-related. I'm not sure that's a good policy. It makes them look petty as well as insensitive.

    American Atheists have no finesse, no grace, and are disconnected as to how to change hearts and minds. You don't cause a big stink on such a sensitive subject like 9/11. It's counter-productive to getting people to understand your position.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Mae

      Unfortunately, only the loud ones get press. Just like many loud people of faith have others cringing. I have many atheist friends and they are all practical, lovely people who actually have no problem with a historic artifact being in the museum.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • tuvia suks

      @ AJ76. I have to agree with you on this. I have no problem with that beamed cross being in the museum. It did serve as a ralling point for quite a few who where there, tirelessly working to find survivors. I won't put that down, that is insensitive. Pick another fight, not this one.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  2. longhornhater

    I think if anyone has a say in what goes into the memorial is the family members of those lost, the emegency service personnel who rush in and not away from danger who lost co-workers no people who just want to cause controversy because they dont agree with the symbology of the symbol placed into a place ran with public funds. Im tired of the atheists dictating what I can and can not see. Well I am a christian and if walmart wants to put up a Christmas tree or the town, Im tired of you appealing who decided that YOUR rights are greater than MINE? ONE NATION...UNDER GOD. IN GOD...WE TRUST

    September 11, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • I Rode my Jesus Horse to Work Today

      You know you simply dismiss the vast majority of educated Americans by stating "We" trust, or maybe you're just including yourself as ignorant?

      September 11, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Not to mention that those words were added in the 1950s. I believe that if we lived more by the original national motto of "E Pluribus Unum" that we would be a much better country.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • longhornhater

      Wow I guess I must be a little more educated that you are...1.Used by a speaker to refer to himself or herself and one or more other people considered together: "shall we have a drink?".
      One or more people ...pretty sure that definitnion didnt say ALL. So would In God ...WE Trust be those who are Christians and believe? I believe it would

      September 11, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • tuvia suks

      @longhorn hater. You are quite the fool. We are not a nation under any god or gods, of any religion.It was added in 1950, during the McCarthy era. Ignorance then and still ignorant today. There is separation of church and state. Period. Go back to loving those longhorns, they need your company.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  3. issak

    Ok....i consider myself a HUGE atheist...and sort of an iconoclast....
    but none of this ever bothers me because i realize other people have their views...
    just like Gay marriage has ZERO effect on straight marriage...

    me seeing a cross somewhere has ZERO effect on my life or thoughts on the world. it's a source of comfort to some.
    perhaps i'm just more tolerant than these other people. but it's ridiculous to fight this.
    it's pretty easy to ignore a cross. Just because you see something doesn't mean the religion is being forced on you.
    i do question why there's no star of david or other religious symbols for al of those killed though.
    but that's a completely different issue.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • I Rode my Jesus Horse to Work Today

      Probably because it wouldn't make much engineering sense to have welded a bunch of beams into a star of David for construction purposes when the Towers were built. you know these beams weren't welded like this purely for the display, and that they were remnants of the Towers, right?

      September 11, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  4. jOHNNY 5

    Including religious symbolism during the 9/11 memorial is equal to including Hitler posters in a holocaust museum. The cause of the attacks is not the answer to them.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • I Rode my Jesus Horse to Work Today

      Actually the cause was politics and economics, not religion, so I'm not sure where you're going with this.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • steelerguin

      A cross has no significant meaning in islam. "Religion" as in every religion known to man did not cause the events of 9/11. Your point is not valid.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • jOHNNY 5

      I agree that politics and economics also played a roll. The reported "missing" 2.3 trillion dollars on 9/10/2001 certainly may play a roll as well.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  5. John

    It's kind of ridiculous that this is being allowed. Something like twelve members of the people who were on the plans and in the towers that weren't part of the "terrorists" (putting that in quotes because there is some doubt about that) were Muslim. This isn't respectful of their beliefs and is quite frankly frightening. Who was it that said that when fascism comes to America it'll be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross? There's the cross, and when I was walking to school this morning there were hundreds of little American flags lining the road. Religious fanaticism and nationalism...See where I'm going with this?

    September 11, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • viaquest

      hopefully your headed to school to learn the meaning of those big words you have used incorrectly!!!

      September 11, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • issak

      Viaquest. You're*
      smooth.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  6. Trish

    As a CHRISTIAN i do support the idea that they put a cross but in all fairness america gives the freedom of speech but i will say only god can judge and no ones perfect . I am a believer in christ and have witnessed blessings in my life that only could happen with the man upstairs. and the point of today is to remember the victims that were innocently killed .

    September 11, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Yes, worship a torture impliment why dont you. How very idolterous of you.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Trish

      you dont worship a cross its a symbol... lol

      September 11, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  7. JohnRJohnson

    I think of more pressing issues to fight for here.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  8. Colin

    Oh how I wish we atheists would stop picking stupid fights and eroding public support. You cannot change a person's mind at the point of a bayonette.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • ME II

      True. Even if AA were right, which is debatable in this particular case, I would think there are more effective campaigns/suits to wage.

      OTOH, I also think it is silly that people of faith put so much importance on this fragment of 9/11. Are they happy that their God presumably allowed this to happen? Some complain about "victory mosques", isn't this just God's "stamp of approval"?

      September 11, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  9. I am God

    I am an Atheist and even though I don't agree with a cross being their; it shouldn't be my right to tell them to get rid of it.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  10. I Rode my Jesus Horse to Work Today

    There's no God, so who really cares. If it gives inspiration or hope or solace to people, especially given that it technically is a historical artifact, leave it at the museum.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      I feel about it much the same as you. However I think that it is silly to worship a medieval torture device. Why give them the reinforcement for their delusion. Just lay the damned thing on it's side or at an angle. Was it sticking up like a cross when they found it in the rubble?

      September 11, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  11. EGB2

    Do they also want to remove all of the crosses from Arlington National Cemetary? It's also backed by public funds.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not all atheists are in agreement concerning the cross at Ground Zero–it's an artifact.

      The crosses at Arlington are headstones. They're personal to the man or woman buried there.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • doughnuts

      There are no cross-shaped grave markers at Arlington. The religious symbol preferred by the serviceman in engraved on the marker.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Mae

      I agree that this is silly – there is religious iconology everywhere and this is about the history of the site, not religious warfare. However, your analogy doesn't quite work – Arlington is multicultural/inclusive. The families of the dead choose which grave markers to put up – Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/atheist/etc. soldiers do not have crosses.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • viaquest

      @ doughnuts ... please do some research before you speak !! there are hundereds of cross headstones in Arlington cemetery, hundereds!!!

      September 11, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • issak

      viaquest, you seem to like to tell people to do research and go to school...yet
      "Hundereds"????
      Spell check dood.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  12. Riche

    I would like one time to be with these folks and then make them pray to Jesus after &**$&&* their bottom.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Ben

      Bring it on. I don't know who you think we are, but you'll have your redneck hands full here.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • I Rode my Jesus Horse to Work Today

      Come get some, cupcake.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  13. Evan

    I support a separation of Church and State. However, this is crossing the line. The cross isn't promoting a particular religion; it's a historical artifact. It's a sign of how Americans can together after the tragedy. The only people who find it offensive are angry atheists, and somehow they still accuse religion of dividing people. This is not the place for this.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Bebe

      Sorry, but a cross is a cross, and you may say it is historical and, yes, it is-it is the historical symbol of Christianity, and many people killed in 9/11 were not Christian. Many were Muslim, Jewish and, for all we know, Buddhist, and perhaps something else or nothing else. We do not need to "Christianize" 9/11, just as we do not need to make the terrorists a symbol of Islam.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  14. tony

    The Cross is the symbol of the Ultimate Liberal. And the policy of non-retaliation. The Bible says so.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      The bible also says a ra.ped woman's attacker can pay her family 50 sheckles and marry her...

      September 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • tony

      That's why I can't understand Republican support for it.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  15. Ralph M

    How about ignore it. There are too many uptight religious fanatics out there as it is. Besides, who is to say which religion is right or wrong. As far as I can tell.. no one ever died and reported back.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  16. au3327

    That's right after God allowed the two towers to fall he made absolutely sure that two steel beams would fall in such a way as to resemble the cross his 'son' was tortured on, he did this to give us hope.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Colin

      Exactly! We atheists should be embracing it as a sure sign of the deep inanity of the Christian faith.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Hmmmmm

      The steel beams didnt fall, its just a T-beam that inside a frame, or more like without-a-frame.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • darquarious

      Question to you atheists: You think A mad scientist created it all? Created man, oceans, the whole Earth, animals, the moon & the sun? The other planets? Our solar system? The whole galaxy? All that huh? Wow.

      In your soulless minds, what do you envision this MAD GREAT SCIENTIST look like who created it all?

      Is Einstein your God?

      September 11, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Colin

      Darquarious – no, we don't think there was any kind of superior intelligence behind it at all.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      If that's the case you and your god are total dipsh•ts.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      darquar, where'd you come up with that crap?

      September 11, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • sam stone

      darq: why do you feel a creator must be a "god"?

      September 11, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • issak

      Darq, Einstein our god?
      how would that even make sense? he was born in the 1870s the Earth has been here for 5 billion years.
      Why do we need a god? Why can't we believe in scientific fact instead of a tall tale?
      You're stretching to try to make fun or hurt us...it won't work.
      Call us soulless? ok. who cares?
      If you're so Christian, then you should find out what that actually means...
      i bet most atheists ACT more christian than you ever will. it's not about calling yourself that, i's acting like it.
      and most christians are not very christian.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  17. Peter

    If you actually believe the government's false version of 9/11 you would believe this was an act of hatred for democracy and freedom. By reciprocating with religious fervor, we are engaging the radicals in their religious war making this a war over religion, not politics. Thereby we are as guilty as they are by justifying atrocious acts in the name of a god. End religion, world peace ensues.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • steelerguin

      Exactly what is the true version of 9/11, Peter? From what I saw, Muslim extremists crashed two planes into the world trade center, one into the pentagon, and a fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania. Tell me what really happened.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • NightOps

      Logical fallacy. Ending religion will not end war. Man, by nature, seeks war out and excuses it by any means possible. Man continually turns more violent and more de-sensitized to the malevolence he displays each and every day. It's not religion you should be fighting, but the men who seek it, regardless of whose "name" they issue it under.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  18. Religion

    Christians can have an exclamation point.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  19. herrer

    How politically correct can you get lthis is really stupid you got to think about the families and victims and tsop this politcal hogwash. The cross to some is a symbol of hope and remorse for some of these families. This is like that stupid mosque fiasco I swear some people can be really snotty at times with their beliefs.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  20. steelerguin

    Silverman and the rest of the goofballs that agree with him need to get a life. Or better yet, give the American Atheists an area in the museum so they can construct a statue of bitter, disillusioned people to represent themselves.

    September 11, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • darquarious

      So true!
      These atheists really embarrass me these days. Wow.
      You have no soul, no faith, that's fine I guess.
      But shut up already. Go pray to your Holy Science who you say is the creator of ALL THIS!

      September 11, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • I Rode my Jesus Horse to Work Today

      They happen to be correct, that there's no evidence of there being any religious significance to it at all. That being said, they can probably find a better cause to rally around, like debunking Jesus's face on a pancake or something.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Hmmmmm

      Darquarius, the next time you fall ill, please dont waste our resources (you know ... ones that resulted from SCIENCE) and pray your illness away.

      September 11, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Joe Martin

      Hmmmmmm, consider this...

      "It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity."
      Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1627) – Often called the father of inductive reasoning and a Christian.

      Many early scientists were deeply religious. Religion doesn't exclude science, although today some who claim to be scientists try to exclude religion. Even Einstein, who wasn't a religious person, wrote, "Science without Religion Is Lame, Religion without Science Is Blind".

      If anyone is intersted, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_thinkers_in_science

      This whole, "if you believe in God then you can't take medicine" thing is a specious argument. God gave us science and scientists along with everything else. I think all of us non-athiests can take our Tylenol guilt free.

      September 11, 2012 at 10:47 am |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.