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.
Atheists and Agnostics will have the hardest time getting people to understand thier POV due to how 'dug-in' religion is in human society. So try honey instead of vinegar. Make yourself seem like 'the adult'. And don't walk in with the menatlity 'they're stupid'. They're not. Most of us come from religious families, with religious backgrounds. I will not call everyone I know an idiot because of their beliefs. Your road will be a lonely one. But keep your chin up, and make sense when sense needs to be made. And if people are happy with their religion, leave it alone. Just let people live out their lives as they see fit. I have faith in humanity. Let math and science propell us. Let our morality mold us. Let our similarities keep us together.
I am fine with people being happy with their religion. What I'm not fine with is people trying to make us happy with their religion. We don't want it. We don't need it. Stop forcing it on us.
stupid is . . . inquisitions, hell, heaven, flying angels, walking on water, etc. etc. etc.
then tell your other followers to not be so stupid. we just call it as we see it. Jonah was never swallowed by a whale and the earth is billions of years old, not 5000. that will always deserve ridicule.
If you don't like it don't look at it. You don't havre the right to ban everything you don't agree with any more than I have the right to try to ban something you find important. Enough with athiests and other small groups who hate everything they aren't happy with. Freedom of religion doesn't mean only for you it means for everyone no matter what their beliefs. In God we trust is on every dollar you spend trying to force 87% of America to do honor your will.
Being atheist and offended with a cross is like a person being on a diet, and being offended at a Hershey Park.
Do you not see the problems with your argument?
No one is forcing it on you. Are people going door to door with guns held at your head dragging you to church? NO!
If they are going to door to door, it's to let you know they are there...sometimes people move to new towns and don't know where to go to worship. Nothing wrong with that...if you don't like it, don't answer your door.
By having the cross there, is someone FORCING you to pray? Is someone holding a gun your head forcing you on your knees to pray to the cross? I didn't think so, so stop with the "forcing it on us" crap.
If you don't like it, don't look at it, why does it shake you to the core? Why are you so afraid of a religious symbol??
Not afraid. Annoyed. Like a fly buzzing around your head. A very large and obnoxious Christian fly.
I am so tired of atheists bringing suits for the courts to change laws and take away MY right to see the cross as a remmbrance for those who have died. Does NO ONE remember that our nation was founded on the right to worship? That, in this nation, we have the freedom of worship? Or, in this "progressive" environment, is it only Muslims that have that right?
we atheists are sick and tired of people like you who refuse to understand the SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE!
I am so tired of religious fanatics telling me that I am a horrible person when in fact they are committing the atrocities in this world of ours.
It's disrespectful to the deceased to assume that they were all Christian. Is there is a crossed displayed there also needs to be a Star of David, buddah eyes, ying and yang, etc... Our country is founded on the freedom to believe what we want to believe, not to be forced to accept ONE religion. Christianity is NOT what makes America. Get over it.
@old: you have the freedom of religion; we have the freedom from religion.
no one is saying " you can't worship" we're saying be fair to EVERYONE. you want to display the christian cross at a site where people of many faiths died, then be willing to display each of those religious icons as well.
I am an atheist, but even I agree with this. It is my right not to worship as much as it is anyone else's right to worship. And as I do not believe in God, it doesn't bother me that others do. A cross at a memorial site is completely appropriate, as is any other religious symbol that can be placed there. "The Atheist" movement is one most misguided crusades in all of history.
Boiling things down, I would argue that public places (schools, courthouses, etc...) should be a comfortable place for everyone. I can see how a muslim visiting this site would feel uncomfortable. There is no inclusion, only exclusion. My 7 year old daughter (non-christian) felt the same way going to her public school in Texas where all she would see in December were christmas trees and veiled holy symbols, at the exclusion of any other belief (or non-belief).
We need to show more empathy in this country.
If there is no God and the universe is a chance result of some great accident, then we are nothing more than bundles of chemicals and nothing matters. If that is so, why are the atheists wasting energy and time on this? They are nothing more than units of chemical reactions and a steel cross will not impact the rate or quality of such chemical reactions in any way. Their anger and activism indicates that they believe that something matters, which is entirely contrary to their world view.
Please show me in any Atheist platform where the claim is made that "nothing matters". Quite to the contrary, non-believers view this world, and this life, and the future of our species as things that "matter". Believers are too concerned with fantasy land second lives, and justify immoral behavior by asking some made up diety for forgiveness.
You're an idiot. That is all.
You are correct about the bundles of chemicals. But wrong about the "then nothing matters" It is because there is no god that everything matters. Everything is more prescious because this is the only life you have.
On the other hand, if you are convinced that there is a special place for you after you die where you live in happiness for eternity, well then for you nothing really matters here. You might as well find the quickest way to get to that paradise.
Unless your really not so sure about that.
Problem is that this artifact is a T , not a cross.
Seems like every common item ever found at a historic site is somehow turned into a cross or a picture of Jesus.
Please people, stop looking at the world through christian colored glasses!
I'm a pagan, and I don't find the cross offensive.
I do find the nearby mosque extremely offensive, but I'm told I must tolerate it. Therefore, I think the atheists who oppose this cross must do the same.
It's not a mosque, it's a community center.
It's not just atheists who protest it's inclusion. The Coalition for Jewish Concerns does also.
Thank you to the level headed atheists that realize that this is a simbol that can be interpreted in whatever way the person viewing it wants to. It is a piece of ground zero which in itself being intact shows how we as American's stand tall through adversity, as a Christian seeing it in the shape of a cross is important to me. But Atheism and christianity both are made to look terrible by Extremists who give us all a bad taste in our mouths. Its no different with Islam. I believe I will one day reside in heaven, this gives me hope. If you do not believe this, it does not make you crazy in my eyes, just means you believe something different from me. I am sick of hearing both sides whine about every little thing, if we all just believed what we believed, we would all get along. Again thank you to the Atheist believers that understand this with a level head, it truly is a breath of fresh air.
Thank you Aaron, as an atheist, I couldn't agree w/ you more. You choose to believe in god. That is your decision, and I have NO problem with that. It does seem that lately the rhetoric of the extremists in ANY group is the loudest, and as the more level headed members of these groups, we need to just tune it out
I find the tattered 9/11 flag far more inclusive. Too many people see 9/11 as an attack by Muslims upon Christians, and this just supports that nonsense.
Dewolfe, you are exactly right. I can definitely say, I have wanted to burn down the church in Kansas that is protesting funerals, and am saddened when athiest's who I suspect are not the most intelligient trash talk others for believing something different. I do believe the majority of both sides, is fine with walking down the street without it being obvious what religion we belong to.
wow, this is really silly. I consider myself an atheist and I always thought that being an atheist gave me a better tolerance and understanding for everyone else's religious views. Seems to me from a few of these posts that some Atheists want to push their agenda on everyone else just like other organized religions. I don't believe in God but I could care less if a cross is put on the 9/11 memorial. I'm sure a large percentage of those who died believed in God, so why not? This should be a day of rememberance and memorial not fighting.
A very agreeable response. Why not put a cross there, it is a memorial to many who were Christians, and it serves for those who are Christians who visit. Perhaps too some sort of Jewish symbol, even a Muslim symbol, or an atheist symbol ... whatever. It's all about symbols and memorials, a way to remember, a way to heal. Unless it's meant as an outright attack on others or prejudicial sign, why can't they put up symbols or memorials? That is a stupid battle they are fighting that shows a high level of intolerance.
I'm with you, John. I'm a dyed in the wool atheist, and all this hoopla over the "Cross" is misplaced. Let it be, AA, as any man who has been married for more than a week will tell you, "pick your battles."
John, Thank you! I do consider myself a Christian (although I do not attend Church regularly, I do not feel it necessary)... ANYHOW, I have friends of all walks of life and all religious backgrounds or lack there of (= Athiest). These people live their lives as good, hard working honest, kind citizens of America. Not one of my Athiest friends care one bit if a cross is erected, to them it's almost a piece of art (just not in the biblical sense). Is this harming anyone? What a waste of public resources to fight this in court. Our court system, paid for by our tax dollars, could be better served trying cases of substance. This whole thing is about absurd as they come. If you don't believe in religion look at this as a piece of art... it's that simple. Next thing we are going to be challenging every structure ever erected in the US – come on folks – seriously?
it should be included–as a symbol of the all power being who allowed the attack to happen
Does anyone else realize that religion is the entire reason this tragedy even took place?
I agree, yet disagree.... yes a religion was used to hammer some twisted beliefs into some people's minds, but ultimately it was people making a choice that caused it.
Also it was 'people' who allowed this to happen, humans. So let's not have anything at this memorial that shows anything human. I know, animals had nothing to do with it ... let just put up pictures of bunny rabbits. And the building was just an innocent bystander that fell, let's put up pieces of the rubble. But no pictures of humans or anything related to that.
Religion was what was used to motivate the terrorists, but the real reason why they hate us lies in our freedom. 9/11 wasn't an attack upon Christianity; it was an attack against freedom.
No, secularists don't just speak out against Christians. We speak out against all, including Islam. It's just when we speak out against Christianity, the media publicizes it because the US is about 80% Christian.
Stop for a second and think about how ridiculous Mormonism or Scientology sound. Then realize that's exactly how your religion sounds to outsiders as well, most of you just happened to be raised and indoctrinated in it by your parents.
No one takes away the rights of atheist not to believe, the cross should have no meaning what so ever to an atheist yet they would infringe on others over something that has no meaning to them?
The point isn't to stop anyone from believing, it's that the cross is only one symbol that does not reflect the beliefs of every person that died that day.
@john: to me as an atheist, yeah the cross means something........thousands of years of fear, oppression and death.
i truly don't mind the christian cross being there, just so long as they display each faith that was practiced by those lost on that day.
Josh – if you think it's only 'one' symbol that doesn't reflect all the beliefs ... that argument then could lead to people arguing for multiple symbols to be displayed. But it makes sense that it's a cross since most who died would probably have claimed to be Christian (based simply on US statistics).
John, how do you think the Jewish and Muslim family members (of which there were many) of those that died that day in those buildings feel every time they visit the memorial and see only a Christian symbol. Not very good I'm betting. Many won't care, but surely many will and do. As a nation it is our responsibility to honor ALL the victims of this attack. Not just the Christians.
@GF, that's just a typical assumption not grounded in truth. Manhattan demographics say it all. Not even half are Christian. 37% Catholic, 20% Jewish, 9% Protestant, 11% NOT AFFILIATED. 19% didn't respond.
So, I'm guessing there were a fair amount of non-Christians that died that day and deserved to be honored with the same respect as Christians.
It's the atheists who are intolerant and refuse to allow anything that isn't neutral. They want to put up their signs & billboards saying "God doesn't exist" but try to put a cross somewhere and they all FREAK OUT!
And you will find that Atheists won't say a word about a religious billboard – the problem comes up when it is forced on the rest of us with public dollars in an inappropriate public setting.
"It's the atheists who are intolerant and refuse to allow anything that isn't neutral. They want to put up their signs & billboards saying "God doesn't exist" but try to put a cross somewhere and they all FREAK OUT!"
Sounds like the Christians who have a hissyfit when the atheists put up their billboards
Really? Blaming atheists for freaking out about religion? It is the constant barrage of this religious fantasy across the country that is so annoying. Wow, a high profile location and the religious right wants to get a little PR? Who would have guessed? Why aren't they blaming their "God" for this happening in the first place?
Free speech is appropriate everywhere. If you don't like it, don't look at it, it's called "FREEDOM OF RELIGION" not "FREEDOM FROM RELIGION"
This country was founded on religious principals, our forefathers wanted a place where everyone was free practice their religion without persecution, not a place where religion doesn't exist or public symbols would be banned.
Can't blame God for Free Will, humans aren't robots under the command of God. We were given Free Will how we use it is up to us.
No one is forcing you to practice any religion, no one is forcing you to pray to it or even acknowledge it's existance. Just let it be there, stop trying to remove religion from everything. If you don't like it, don't look at it. Simple...don't be so intolerant.
@john: this country was founded on equality and religious tolerance; how tolerant were you christians while they were trying to build "THE GROUND ZERO MOSQUE". i remember you christian hypocrites getting pretty angry over the muslim population wanting to build another mosque in NYC.
POT MEET KETTLE.
I wonder if the atheist would change their position if the museum included religious symbols of other religions. Can't tell if this is about removing one cross or being fair by adding other religious symbols. Regardless, they have no clue about the 1st amendment.
I am by no means an overzealous religious freak, nor am I an atheist. I have to wonder what makes these kinds of people (atheists) tick? What is the big deal? Don't look if you don't like it. I don't appreciate seeing a shining topped mosque down the street but I didn't protest it. It would do no good. You really want to do something good? Go away and mind your own business.
You obviously didn't even read the first couple paragraphs of the article. The president of the American Atheists said, "This case is about inclusion, it is not about the elimination of religion, it is about the inclusion of everyone." Not everyone that died that day had the exact same beliefs and I think everyone that died that day is as equally important as the next.
Hmmmm....as a reformed catholic and current agnostic, I do feel that some christians will stop at nothing to bring religious symbols into anything. Even if the symbol for some is nothing more than a torture and execution device. Yes, taxpayer money is involved. But, as a person who tries to depend on reason and community harmony, I don't see a problem with it being there, as long as we can have a mosque in the neighborhood, a star of David, and whatever else represents people who lost their lives in this national tragedy.
Thank you for being honest enough to acknowledge that you are an agnostic and not an atheist. You are more intellectually honest in doing so and yes there is no more harm to seeing a cross in public view as say the dome of an Islamic worship center. Besides, there are far to many crosses in history such as paintings, architectural works etc to prove legitimacy in these militant atheist claims.
Couldn't agree more!
The cross is inappropriate since it is the symbol of one religion to the exclusion of all others. People of all religions died on 9/11, including, if you've forgotten, Muslims who were sure that their god was the only right one too. To try to keep only one religious symbol up is a similar attempt to declare that the Christian god is the only right one. We know the terrible harm that religion did in this one spot on one day 11 years ago. There's no reason to laud it.
There's another reason I'd think Christians would want it gone too. Some Christians want to claim that their god "made" this cross. Really? That means that instead of helping people on that day, keeping them from having to jump or burn, protecting the firefighters and police men who entered the buildings selflessly, this god was playing at arts and crafts. IS this the god you want to worshp?
I find it funny how atheists oppose people expressing their beliefs but if someone else doesn't agree with THEIR atheist POV, then they automatically become "bigots".
Nothing wrong with a cross in a museum. It has become a symbol of 9/11/01.
One symbol shouldn't offend anyone, I'm not forcing you to pray before it, just let it be there. Does it burn your satanic eyes to even acknowledge it's existence?
If it's about inclusion, then the cross HAS to be there.
The atheists HAVE their own symbol already in the museum – blank space and nothingness.
wow – excellent point
I disagree with the sentiment that atheists have nothing. They have all of the humans in the museum and the science that built it.
No, Mary, that's the symbol of *all* theists. You all want to claim that your god is the only "right" one. But not one of you has a scrap of evidence. The Muslims on the planes were sure that they were right. Christians now want to claim that their god was playing arts and crafs on 9/11 rather than helping people survive. If the cross "must" stay, then we *must* have a crescent and star, a Star of David, an atheist "A" symbol, and the symbols of the religions of *everyone* who perished on that day. But I'm sure you don't want that kind of equality at all. So, you are a hypocrite.
You made a excellent point. Thank you.
Have you heard of science?
Wrong, Mary. Atheists had the magnificent towers there that were built with science, engineering and technology. It was the religo-nuts who turned it into blank space and nothingness.
its a lot easier for man to be good when they believe their will be a reward for being good compared to being good for your own self satisfaction
Great point Mary!
To clubschadenfreude: Muslims, Christians & Jews all believe in the same God, just depends on how the stories told/when it stops.
To the Jews, Jesus & Mohammed (excuse spelling) aren't correct, to Christians, Mohammed isn't correct, while Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, not the Son of God.
We all believe in the same God, the differences are in the details of the teachings/customs etc.
Perfect observation. Atheists believe in nothing. They have no basis on which to found a moral view of the world, hence they fall to base desires and degenerate behaviors. The truth is that people of faith, any faith, stand in the way of the complete perversion of the human race. The Gods do not have to be real, but their belief is what has shaped the morality of man from the beginning of time.
I love how atheists grab on to science as their religion...when virtually all mathematicians were either muslim (Iraqi) or Christian. Atheists have done little of importance in this world...unless you count whining.
Sadly when the religious right pushes so hard to bring there god into public settings and schools it becomes necessary to push back. This is not something the Atheist will win but sometimes a losing battle still needs to be fought.
Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Atheists, and Christians died there. It is not right to have a singular religious icon associated with it. No cross.
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.