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.
In this particular case, the atheists can stuff it. It's a MUSEUM. People memorialise things in museums, and religion is part of rememberance.
I fall somewhere in the middle of this argument. It reminds me a bit of the atheists on this blog who try to change the world by bickering with christians. It won't work.
Rather than putting so much energy in the small things, why not address the big picture. Run for office. Be honest with strangers, friends and family. Teach your children and their friends the truth.
We atheists know the christians are wrong. Obviously. But their delusions are very powerful. I say they are lost forever. But the next generation can be different if we work hard where it counts.
To keep christians from destroying America, be heard on election day!
Religion is for the little people who have little minds, little ideas and little else.
Leave it up to christains to celebrate death. They revere this symbol of death just as much as they revere the chains that bind them. Where was Mr. Christ on 9'11?
I guess that means either the cross will be removed, or they'll add a star and crescent for the Muslim paramedic who died saving other victims (along with other innocent Muslims), a Star of David for the Jewish-Americans, Om for the Hindus, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the Pastafarians. That's only the tip of the iceberg.
If you look at the photos of these beams in the shape of the cross, it is plain as the nose on your face. God reached down from the heavens and put that cross there to let us know he cared. To give us hope. Now the atheists want to pretend there is no God and ban his very sign from heaven. Pathetic.
@Dean from Kansas
That's a stretch, if you're being serious. God cared so much, that when 3,000 people died he left the burnt remains of a t-shaped beam? Maybe if he cared that much he should have left a first aid kit, or better yet prevented the catastrophe? By your logic, the cross-shaped supports from my window that got broken in my house were god's message too?
That said, this isn't support of a religion, but rather the remembrance of an important symbol from the event. The cross should stay.
You seem angry at God too. God has given us free will, however he knows everything that will happen in the future. Therefore is stands to reason that innocent people will die, yet he loves us very much. Atheists will learn this hard lesson when they are burning in hell.
"God reached down from the heavens and put that cross there to let us know he cared. "
I really hope you're not serious. I really hope for everyones sake that you're either kidding, or you're completely wrong. This is just disturbing to think about.
"Hmm, oh look those planes are about to hit the building and start a huge backlash that will lead to massive islamaphobia, two worthless wars, loss of life, global economic backlash, and a whole shitload of other things. I think after it happens I'll put these beams in the shape of a torture device that killed part of me. That should get my "love" across very nicely."
How fucking evil would a god have to be to do that?
God foresaw these terrible things and sought to comfort us by performing a miracle. I think it is amazing how atheists say, "see, no miracles, so no god" but when they see a miracle they make excuses to dismiss it. He lives!
What miracle? From the actual article above:
"The cross is a steel T-beam, a common architectural device used in the building of the World Trade Center towers."
Yeah Dean, obviously God did it, since it can't be explained.
What is a miracle, Dean, is your myopic thirteenth century mindset that uses mysticism to explain every random event.
Love it. God foresaw these terrible events. He chose to intervene by causing the falling debris to crash to the ground in the shape of something that would remind people of himself. Classic narcissism. How many victims were crushed beneath that cross?
Way to go aheists! What non-aheist friends you may have had, some will now regard you with disgust.
Religion of any kind is for the weak minded...
They still think that Noah lead Tyranasaurus Rex and all the other dinosaurs onto the ark! . . . . or they simply deny the existence of dinosaurs . . . . one walk thru a natural history museum will quicky dispell that notion . . . . the only thing that they know about that is truly ancient is the primitive thing between their ears.
Good idea, would you let your mind atrophy the same as you let your spirit?
As an atheist, I'm not against the cross being placed at ground zero, but to state definitively that it was god who did it is fvcking stupid. The building was made out of that shape and the simple laws of physics explain why such a shape would survive all over the place (the two "triangles" of the cross piece are the strongest structure possible). It would have been more surprising if no cross were found in the rubble, and photos of the site show cross structures all over the place. Pull your head out of your azz, moron.
Atheists' always have to resort to name calling when they can't get there way and can't face the truth. God is timeless and He created that building so that when it fell down, the cross would remain as a symbol of Him. He works in mysterious ways and He know a bit more than you do my friend.
He created that building? Do tell. When? Did you see him wearing his hard hat and steel-toed boots on the construction site?
Please. Men created that building, you nit.
God cared? Why didn't he stop it? He is, after all, all knowing and all powerful right? If he knew and didn't stop it, then he is evil. If he was unable to stop it, then he is not all powerful. Your god is full of nothing but false promises and exaggerated claims. I'm so glad your dogma is dying out, and atheism is the fastest growing believe system in the world. Maybe in 100 years it will be dead and the world can look upon religion as a bronzian age story and nothing more.
He had a rough day of flatulence, blew up a bunch of dust and it settled in the form of a building!
@Tom Tom, Logic and Shawn
I find it fascinating that you can boldly claim that God is dead while you yourself live and breath. Who gave you life? Who will save your soul? The one Living God. He knows what lies in the hearts of men.
Way to go atheists! What non-aheists you may have had, some may now regard you with disgust.
People who have a life are not going to worry about it.
Prayer changes things
I'm sure they plan to include a star of David and a Star and Crescent Moon, so as to be inclusive to the Jewish and Muslim victims of 9/11...right? Otherwise, this would be blatantly violating the religious clause of the First Amendment.
I agree with Toobin. It's a historical relic, an artifact from the period. Include it and move on ...
If at the same site where they uncovered a cross they uncovered another religion's symbol, place that next to the cross.
As people of many faiths and no faiths died in the tragedy, there should be no objection to the Cross being their to represent those of the Christian faith who died, those of the Christian faith who worked to find survivors, those of the Christian faith who mourned, not only for those who died but for those who were lost.
If people of other faiths have representation in the memorial, there should be no issue.
For people with no faith, it should be something they should ignore. There isn't a way to represent people of faith and people of no faith at the same time.
How are those other faiths being represented? Explain to us all thank you.
Christians are the first to whine about persecution and science impinging on their belief system, but they have no problem with trying to do the very same thing with their "faith" and symbols to non-believers. If it is public property, the law says, no religious symbols allowed. Take your cross and ........!
Shawn: Since you do not believe in the meaning of the Cross, nor any other symbols of belief, perhaps you should stop using our money, using our legal system, living under US law, using the protection of our laws as they were set up under God. In other words if you don't like where you are get the heck out of here and go where you will be welcome, but don't try to change us. That is our right and you have yours, now grow up and shut up.
DB, this isn't YOUR country. This is OUR country. And God didn't 'set up' our laws as you'd know if you had even the most limited education.
Everyone has a right to be heard on this matter whether you agree with the viewpoints they have or not.
And where do you get off telling anyone who isn't Christian to 'get out' and go where he'll be welcome, you presumptuous twit? This isn't a theocracy and no one is required to believe in god or your christ in order to qualify as a citizen. And what makes you think that Shawn doesn't pay taxes just like you?
So.. No musems that display historical artifacts should be allow to include pieces that have a religious backround or connection right?
I guess that means Michelangelo's David, about half of the paintings from the renaissance, and nearly all pieces of greek artwork are out.
What's a matter DB, did I rain on your parade? . . . . well, if you knew the law, and knew what that ****g ancient book of BS says about "obeying the law", you would actually be supporting my position . . . . but cleary you do not know either . . .
If you are not Christian the cross at the site will hold no special meaning, big deal.
Wrong, you cannot understand.
No. It holds a lot of meaning. It means that Christians think they were the only ones who lost someone on 9/11.
Lots of atheists, and religions like Muslims, Jews, and others also lost friends and family members on 9/11.
There should be no specific religious symbols at the site.
I guess we cant have anything talking about the radical islamic beliefs of the attackers either
TAX the churches. Get out of debt fast.
Yep, churches are WAY overstepping their bounds. Time to send in the taxman.
Exactly, if they want to participate in politics and display their symbols on public, let them pay taxes . . . . otherwise they have nothing to complain about, it is certainly not their money going into public projects. The free loaders just want another free ride.
Agreed, all properties except for the actual church itself.
Why should there be any exemptions? Why and where do "you" draw the line?
If you don't believe in God, why do you really care if there is a cross. I understand you don't want a push for state religion, but c'mon, the Cross is the symbol for most people who died in 9/11. I would not mind a crescent and moon and a star of David or whatever. There is a God, however you believe. If you don't why DO you care?
Come back when not so ignorant.
I believe the public in general woud support a star of david. I don't believe for a second a crescent moon would be tolerated.
And you would not complain if I propose setting up a huge pentagram in the place of the cross?
Not only athiests if they can take the time to read the fine print on their currency... no complaints now?
These people keep pushing God away from our nation- Christians are then yielding to these atheists to be politically correct. Then we wonder why this country is also going down the tubes.
0 morals, ethics, decency. Promotion of gay parents, gay marriage, and no Crosses. Whats next?
You dont want kids to pray? You dont want kids to be Christ like? to love, to be fogivefull, to live a Christian life? Its amazing how these things are considered "crazy false things"
Amazing isnt it?
To be good does not require RELIGION. Period.
The country is not going down the tubes because of LACK of religion . . . . if that were the case, churches would be a rare site. And it is funny how the christians make the automatic assumption that someone who is not christian is without morals. . . . but it was not the athiests or agnostics that were so busy molesting children.
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.