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.
If a Christian parent had a child with a terminal illness, they would spend every penny they had to keep that child alive. Never mind all that nonsense about going to a better place, having eternal life and being with Jesus. Deep down, they really don't believe in that hogwash. They just plant crosses everywhere and recite a bunch of Bible babble because it's what they're conditioned and brainwashed to do. It gets annoying to witness all the time.
Christian Scientist fundies are the only true Christians anymore.
Boy, are you narrow-minded! Of course a Christian will use medicine or whatever to keep a child alive. Although we believe, in God and heaven, etc., we also believe that life is precious and we have a purporse for living. Why would a Christian believe God created life and not do everything to sustain it?
I don't think I would be happy very long being with Jesus. He didn't seem to be a "fun person". I would rather go to a football game with my friends than listen to religious talk all day! Go Giants!
How ridiculous your comment is. Do not think an atheist parent would do the same for their child? A mormon parent? A muslim parent? Part of being a (good) parent is making whatever sacrifices necessary for your children, and putting them before all else... Your comment is ignorant and narrow minded
This type of reactionary overreach and delusional self-righteousness over a cultural symbol valued by a group of people you disagree with gives Atheists a bad name. I don’t care if it was a cross, a star of David, or a crescent moon (Muslims were killed in the towers and a mosque inside the building destroyed) it was a symbol of hope to millions in a time of national darkness. While I don’t believe in the cosmology of Christianity, I celebrated the power of Faith in something Good in whatever form it comes. Atheist Jim says to Atheist John, learn to be tolerant and see the wisdom in points of view you disagree with. The cross is about dogmatism or ideology but about hope, don’t degrade it with your dogmatism and ideology.
Thank you and well said, Jim the Atheist! Atheists shouldn't be haters, they should be celebrators!
Sometimes the list of the the most ignorant include some atheists as well as right wing christian nutjobs. I mean really the cross is meant for the victims and a way of remembrance and peace. It's not some crap trying to indroctrinate everyone. jeesh.
I'm tired of atheists making everything about atheism. Everywhere you look, we are constantly being bombarded witah atheist buildings and symbols. What about the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Chrysler Building? All of them are totally devoid of religious ymbol and content. Banana Republic, McDonalds, Old Navy, Burger King, Sears, JC Penney, Amazon, EBay, NONE of them contain religious references or advertise specifically to the religious. It's about time the pendulum started to swing the other way and that the religious finally get some representation in the world. From now on, EVERYTHING should reflect Christian ideals and philosophy so maybe the atheists can finally get educated and get their heads and hearts right, and world will start improving.
Oh, Sly. You're so you.
Don't judge all based on few and far between.
@ Sly the fluffer-nutter. So you want a religious war with Islam and some other relgions as well? You will get it it, eventually. Why not right now? Fool.
Ummm ok, do me a favor? Next time you are out and about jot down the number of buildings that declare themselves to have any type of belief.
Whatever happened to "the majority of the voice of the people out weigh the minority"? We are changing our country for the voice of the few. When will it ever end? It will end when those minority have us praying in our own homes with the curtains closed, no religious items in public view, even on our own property. When will the majority ever get tired of it, get some backbone and fight back? Our rights are being violated also.
So if 100 people are standing at a cliff and 99 of them say 'we need to jump' and you say 'psht like hell we do', do you agree that the 99% majority have the right to throw your minority 1% off the cliff?
Christianity doesn't cause "reigious wars", people taking land that other people think belongs to them and countries supporting equally evil terrorism against other terrorists cause "religious wars". In fact, there is no such thing as a "religious war", there are wars that use religion as an excuse to violently oppose economic and human rights oppression. Islam as a religion doesn't condemn Christianity, it practically venerates it. We could put a Crucifix on every house in America, and if we stopped supporting Isreal's violence against Islamic countries, Islam would be a-ok with us.
But back to point, atheism gets much more representation in NYC and the world than religion does. It's simple math that there are thousands of times more objects, buildings, businesses, and media outlets that refuse to advocate for religion than do, and now the atheists want to attempt to further dominate the landscape and force their nonbelief on a populus that is mostly religious. I am tired of the tyranny of the atheists.
@DEB Instead of wasting your life away going to church and learning about fairy tales, you should spend that time learning about America and the philosophy behind this great country. The majority has the right to select our elected officials, not to dictate the lives of 'minority' groups. The founding fathers were very concerned with the rights of those who did not agree with majority and sought to protect them.
Don't forget the rest of the world's religions, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Shinto, Sikhs, Unitarians, Zoroastrians, etc. Sects like Scientologist, Satanists, Mormons, Wiccans, even Agnostics like me that doubt there may or may not be a Force that controls all. The list goes on and on. I'm sure they'd like their symbols there too, or is the land of the free only for Christian whackos like yourself?
I am not going to label myself, I will just say that I do NOT believe in any higher being. That being said, I DO believe the American Atheists should just back off and shut up. There are lots of different belief systems, they all have a place and should all be allowed to express their horror, grief and honor to the victims and events of 9/11.
Im an athiest/agnostic, and I am proud to be so, but I do not agree with this. I feel it should stay, even though it is not for all religions or non-religious, it is a symbol of things bigger than Christianity.
Hey, I'm an atheist. Let the babies have their bottle. Pick battles that actually mean something if you're going to try your best and offend 95% of the planet in my name. If you're RIGHT and there's no God, what do you care what other people believe?
THANK YOU for writing this
I think the whole point they are getting at is that it's the only religious symbol they have for the museum. Which I can totally understand from that perspective because not only did people of that faith die, but many many others did as well. If they should keep it in the museum I feel like it shouldn't be a "center piece" but more or less as a reminder to those who held it as a sign of hope in those days. I'm an atheist and I wouldn't want it taken completely out because it's more than a religious symbol to a lot of people. I wouldn't want to take something away that helped you get through a very sorrowful and mourning time.
If it's all about displaying artifacts, why would the curator wants to include something that is exclusive to one particular group? They should have displayed things that have no religious affiliation whatsoever to prevent exclusion of those that aren't affiliated to it.
religion is the cause of 9/11. atheists are just trying to stop it. if the world was atheist, 9/11 would not have happened.
*People* were the cause of 9/11. It is not a stretch to believe that even without religion it could still have taken place. All that is needed for an evil act to occur is one person with bad intentions.
Religion or no religion people will kill for numerous reasons.
Religion is the center for every major war on this planet. That's not just speculation, it's fact.
Anonymous, huh? WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam war to name a few were hardly fought in the name of religion. Take off your blinders.
Think of it like this: An Atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, and two Christians get killed in a terrorist attack and a memorial is set up for these people. The memorial team is made up of all Christians and they decide to place a big cross to represent everyone who died because more Christians died than any other. To some Christians, this may seem fine but it isn't.
The two beams that were left at ground zero are now a symbol of the christian faith and therefore should not be used to honor everyone that died in the attack. I'm fine with a church using it or something else like that but to put it in a memorial without recognizing everyone else who lost their lives is wrong. I very much agree with their fight to keep it out of the memorial. Putting it in to represent everyone is a slap in the face for anyone else who may have died that wasn't a Christian.
It doesn't represent everyone it is a piece on display as a historical relic. Get over yourself and be tolerant. Atheists don't have to bash religion and strip it from public eye just because they disagree idealogically.
It was blessed by preachers and spent most of the time since the attack in a church. It may have been a historic relic but now it's a religious symbol that represents those who died that day. If placed in a church it would be fine to represent all the Christians that died, when placed in a public memorial with the use of pulic funds, it represents everyone who died that day.
They don't have to use the cross, they can use any piece of rubble in that memorial, the fact that their putting up such a fight to keep it in shows how biased they are for christians, not to mention that it is wrong for the people who died that were not Christian.
I am an atheist and i think that this case is retarded.
I'm an atheist and am totally disgusedt by the American Atheists actions. I respect and support all religions, and as noted above this country was founded by Christians. The cross is a powerful symbol of love, deep commitment and courage, and as such, should be part of the memorial. Those stupid people need to shut up and respect others as they demand to be respected. NO ONE is hurt by having the corss there, and it gives solace and hope to this country. Get over yourselves.
this country was founded by puritans who murdered Indians.
You are a liar, and you post xtian crap. You are not an atheist, nor agnostic. What you are is a headcase.
II completely agree with you. I am Hindu, but I don't think that having a Cross at the site should be any issue at all. It only represents faith, love,care, unity and solace. If nothing else, majority of the people who lost lives were Christians, so its perfectly fine. Why are we even worrying about these issues at all????
Yes, we need to grow up.
Ditto. I am an athiest and this case is absolutely asinine.
Actually, this "country" was founded by Asian hunter gatherers that probably praticed some sort of nature worship/paganism. It wasn't until about 15,000 years later that Europeans came here and messed things up.
The religious right are like children. Someone needs to be there to tell them NO once in a while.
this coming from a person named, "rocket"
What should be flying and thus symbolizing the September 11, 2001 Memorial (at all 3 locations) are the flags of every country–even Iran, North Korea, Syria. People of every nationality were and still are "We the people."
Why is it we have to accept the atheistic open "beliefs" but is is OK for them to always fight to stop our open beliefs?????
Science is fact. Not belief. No proof of god, no need to believe.
what atheistic "beliefs" are there? we either learn about science and math, or we ignorantly ignore it and choose to believe in a magical being who doesnt really exist.
The bottom line is that atheists who site science as the only real truth can still not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how this world was created. Big Bang? It's a theory, not a fact. Get over yourselves.
Obviously you two don't understand the "faith" concept
I think atheists should all move somewhere where they can all annoy each other. If you find this 'symbol' offensive then don't look at it. I find atheists offensive if they have nothing better to do than annoy the rest of society with their hatred.
Troll. God hates you.
Why don't atheists get loud about a Mosque being built there instead of getting all revved up about a symbol of that day???
Atheist are the most narrow minded people I know in everyday life. They are against any religion, and to them it's okay. But God-forbid someone is against their atheism – because then those people are called "biggots".
They want the right to express THEIR beliefs, but oppose non-atheists expressing theirs. Hy-po-crites.
Yes. Atheists are two-faced hypocrites.
Mosque built with private funding on private land...not a good analogy.... just fyi.
Um... Why are you calling me names? Did I miss something?
Right on !!!
"Why don't atheists get loud about a Mosque being built there" What? You are using my tax money to build a mosque at Ground Zero? Why, you dirtbag. Wasn't the one built by private donations big enough? You absolutely may NOT use my tax money to build a mosque or any other silly church. Get your own money and build what you like.
First of all, it's not a mosque, it's a community center. Second of all, you don't see atheists going door to door asking you if you've found nothing. In general atheists have no problem with you or your religion. You're welcome to your fairy tales. What we don't like is having your religion saturating our daily lives, having your religious iconography everywhere we look and we don't like being told we need to find Jesus, or Allah or whoever the flavor of the century is.
Hyprocrits! Exactly! They preach hate, a vile hate from deep in there hearts. I've seen them protest crosses on private land that can be seen from public places. I've seen them laugh with pleasure when something bad happens to a place of worship. But, we're the bigots...I've never protested an atheist billboard (no matter how distateful it is).
But if religious symbols are banned then so too must atheist symbols be banned.
I'm an atheist and I feel that I am the most open minded person there could be. I accept that people believe differently. That no religion or non religion should have a place of superiority over any others. We are a family of man. We should treat each other as family members and love one another, not try to assert our individual beliefs over them.
No. I am an atheist and I have no problem with this cross. I think it is great, in fact.
Keep in mind that most atheists, like me, aren't on a crusade (pardon the pun) to tear down religion and remove it from our view. But no news sources are going to interview me and do a story about how I'm an atheist and I'm not against the 9/11 cross. Makes for an uninteresting article.
Don't fall into the "lumping all people together" fallacy. It would be just as logical to rant about how Christians all go around protesting at dead soldiers' funerals, just because of those wackos in the Phelps congregation.
I disagree with this group of atheists. It's just the audacious stories that get attention in the news, and that you read. You can't just read the news, which is largely sensationalism, and extrapolate the stories to assume that they describe the country or the world as a whole.
ATHEISM = HATRED.
ATHEISM = RUDENESS.
ATHEISM = DEMEANING, MOCKING COMMENTS AT ANYONE DIFFERENT THAN THEM.
ATHEISM = VOID, EMPTY INSIDE FILLED WITH HATRED TO GIVE SOMEWHAT OF A MEANING TO THEIR (BY DEFINITION OF ATHEISM) PURPOSELESS LIVES.
There are definitely plenty of atheists in these comments who call names, act angry, abusive and rude to Christians. There are also plenty of Christians who call names, act angry, abusive, and are rude to atheists.
Let's go back and review your comments Saab227, and see which kind of person you are.
Yeah...ummm let's go back and re-read this ARTICLE.
Most Atheists don't broadcast that they are Atheists. Why public condemnation.
I already read the article Saab227. I don't see anyone in the article calling names the way you are. The people interviewed in the article had strong opinions, but none of them were being abusive. It wasn't personal. Your posts are.
I just find your rhetoric ironic, since you aggressively point out that atheists are aggressive, and hatefully point out how hateful atheists are. You do the very things you're complaining about - which is the definition of hypocrisy, while calling atheists hypocritical. It's just funny, that's all.
Rising out of the rubble in the aftermath of 911 where this country was brutally attacked by cowards, was this steel cross. This country was founded under God, that cross symbolizes one nation founded under God, it symbolizes love peace strengh and resolve to the citizens of the United States of America. When I visit ground zero to pay my respects to the fallen to include my nephew Justin John McCarthy I will find solace with the peace and tranquility of this site to include that steel cross. I don't care who it offends because this site is for the citizens, the families who lost loved ones who have no place to go because no bodies were returned to those families and they need somewhere to go to grieve reflect and yes to pray. This memorial site is beautiful and although not complete if offers a place of reflection for those of us who lost a family member and I want to thank all those involved for their hard work and loving care to provide this place. To those of you who think you can politize this you need to think again, the families will not stand by and allow anyone to interfere with this memorial completion and that includes exhibiting the steel cross. To all of you who want to fight over something this petty remember that here in the United States you have the freedom to voice your opinion and in many places around the world including where these cowards came from you would be imprisoned or killed. We are a tolerant people and if you are offended by this cross than I suggest you stay away and let the rest of us grieve in peace.
Treaty of Tripoli 1796, Article 11: As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;
You don't understand any thing about what America stands for. We are not a Christian Republic. You should be proud that we have people who challenge these things. Our society is be built on true freedom. Don't allow your religion to be used by politicians. It cheapens you and your religion.
"This country was founded under God" This country was founded by refugees escaping Churches. We were attacked twice by the Church of England because we dared to declare our independence from both COE and Rome. How come you don't know that? They didn't sail across the ocean to live in the woods just because their little country church got a new minister, honey. You went to jail or paid fines if you missed a day of church, and they owned you body and soul. Life is complicated, and it wasn't easy back then either.
Your god let thousands die, then to show his "love" left an iron T, not a cross. Wow you are stupid and your gods a pus.sy.
"We are a tolerant people and if you are offended by this cross than I suggest you stay away and let the rest of us grieve in peace." That's hilarious. You ought to have your own reality show, here comes Honey Baba. Sorry, what you said is a great example of intolerance.
"We are a tolerant people and if you are offended by this cross than I suggest you stay away and let the rest of us grieve in peace." That's one of the funniest sentences I've read. We are tolerant – now go away.
Thank you for your posting. It is well said and I believe many of us still agrees with your words. Bless your heart.
The cross, by its religous meaning, simbolizes the human stupidity as most people is. Regarles of what I believe, I respect stupidity since somedy has to do the hard work. So be the stinking cross!
Barbara, you seem to be saying we have the right to express our opinions only if they agree with yours.
And the earlier take about the "mosque at ground zero"? It's blocks away, it's been there for years, and adding a community center is what got the ultra-right upset.
ATHEISM = HATRED.
ATHEISM = RUDENESS.
ATHEISM = DEMEANING, MOCKING COMMENTS AT ANYONE DIFFERENT THAN THEM.
ATHEISM = VOID, EMPTY INSIDES FILLED WITH HATRED TO GIVE SOMEWHAT OF A MEANING TO THEIR (BY DEFINITION OF ATHEISM) PURPOSELESS LIVES.
@ Ironfoot – Atheists are the most narrow minded people I know in my life so far. They are against any religion and its belifes, and to them that is okay. But God-forbid someone is against their atheism – because then those people are called "biggots".
So, the cross marks the spot of Gods failure.. The Cross = Symbol of fail
God should have prevented 9/11. if only New York didnt have so many gays and liberals. it is obvious God is a republican. when he sends a tornado to the south, it is to wipe out the democrats who linger around.
yet another photo op of a gluttonous Catholic clergy
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.