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.
Why are you "religious" people so hateful just because not everybody believes in your god? This lawsuit is about giving those people and their different beliefs respect. The people that passed away may have believed in a different god or no god at all. This is not a difficult concept to comprehend.
It is difficult for those who cannot see outside the religious parameters they box themselves in to.
You are right it is not a difficult concept to comprehend. I don't believe that those who think the cross should stay have any problem with any other belief being represented. Comprehend?
Other way around there, Bella. The hatred and bigotry of American Atheists knows no bounds.
This lawsuit is about whether a historical icon should be placed in a museum. Because the icon has religious overtones, you seek to destroy and deny history.
No, the lawsuit is not about that at all. No lawsuit is needed to let other religions and traditions include any 9/11 memorabilia they wish in that museum.
CaptObv – really? deny history? How so? Keep in mind it was Christians who destroyed the library at Alexandria in order to conceal advancements of man that didn't align with, or disproved their beliefs..... Your kind take the cake when it comes to revisioning the past.
@CapObv – actualy numbsull...atheists are a lot more tolerant than religions. We generally don't hate gays or other religions or go around having crusades or flying into buildings for religious ideals. You will understand why we think you're actually an atheist when you understand by dismissing all other gods except your own, you are indeed an atheist to them in the same way we are to you and all others. Why is your religion so all important over others or none? It's not, period.
No, read the article again their, brainchild. The lawsuit is to remove the cross. Nobody is arguing that other faiths groups cannot or should not place religious symbols in the museum. It is quite clear that if another religious or non-religious groups wished to pay their repsects by placing their own icons, then they could do so.
This lawsuit is about intolerance and hatred towards a class based on personal belief. It is to remove the cross. Someday you will recognized that in order to be a tolerant person, your so-called tolerance needs to be more than superficial and apply to respect others who have different culture, heritage and thought processes than your own.
I don't get it really. I mean if atheist weren't so adamant about attacking religion this is non a issue. I mean the whole assumption here is that tax payers dollars should not go towards something everyone does not universally agree to. And let's break this conversation down for the super logical, critical thinking atheist out there. Religion is a belief system, so attacking religion is to attack an individual's belief. Based on the logic being presented, if everyone does not believe in the belief, then it shouldn't be supported by tax dollars. Well get over it. tax dollars are constantly spent on things that not every american "believes" in. SMH And again, America does not force athiest to go to church or believe in some fairytale made up God/gods. So quit whining like the only thing that happens is religion is forced down your throat when that is clearly not the case. You're not forced to go to church, your not forced to study religion in school, etc. And when you do participate in something that has a religious tone, quit whining, suck it up, and do it for about 1hr. I get thrusted into events all the time that conflict with my personal belief but I just quitely do it then go about my way. It's called respect and courtesy. SMH
Really? Are you a complete ignoramous? The atheist has, in turn, brought the world some of the greatest atrocities known to humankind such as the Maosim and Stalinism.
A true student of history will recognize that there are always cowards who hide their atrocities and seek to justify hate through any variety of religious or non-religious belief. There are plenty of those who have committed atrocity against society and justified such atrocieties through either religion or non-religion. The problem lies with those, like yourself, who fail to see that they are part of the problem, not the solution.
The answer for religous person is not to wipe atheism from the planet. Vice versa, the answer for the atheist is not to wipe out religion. The answer rather is to learn to respect and be tolerant towards one another regardless of human differences such a culture, heritage, opinion, and belief.
In other words, only the fools who see an "us versus them" mentality are to blame on both sides. The TRUTH is that we all wear the same jersey. Whether you beleive we are all untied in a brotherhood of man and members of the same human family or whether you believe we are all united as children of God is irrelevant to the problem at hand. The only rational behavior is to choose to respect and "work with" one another, not deny voice to a perceived opposing party.
The only fool is a Christian who cannot respect his atheist brother as a fellow child of God. Likewise, the only fool is the atheist who fails to respect his Christian neighbor as one of his fellowmen and his heritage as having value to billions of humans.
Keep this cross, but also put in a petting zoo full of sheep.
PERFECTLY sain Al!!!!
I'm a Christian, my money is being used to fund this and I want the cross. Atheists don't have to believe but they must respect.
OOPS! Even I, Jesus Christ make mistakes...I meant, PERFECTLY "said" Al!!!
ViK100, you daft git! Do you think you're the only one that pays taxes? Megalomania on a HUGE scale in your little head I think.
Sorry, but you sheep lovers are discriminating against those that insist on lying with horses.
Well Vik im atheist and I am glad that you only care about yourself.
Why would these people feel excluded from the museum because they displayed a cross? Do they not use money becuase the eye of god is on it? Or because it says in god we trust? The cross is just a symbol somebody made to help people cope.
Christians replying to this story i would encourage you to not be rude and nasty. Its not going to help people's image of Christians if we are not "practicing what we preach".
Agreed. Someone who is truly an atheist supposedly doesn't believe in any Higher Power. If they truly don't believe, then such icons shouldn't matter. If they do matter, perhaps these folks need to ask themselves why they care so much about a make-believe issue. It's like claiming not to believe in Santa Claus then getting upset when the kid who claims his dad is Santa leaves a Santa toy at the memorial.
One can practice (religious) tolerance and co-existence without having to be converted to the belief.
We would if we could. Unfortunately, not everyone owns a farm to grow their own food, so we have to use "money" to eat. It's one thing being an atheist, it's another thing being stupid.
actually atheists and secular groups are trying to get god removed from all money. these united states of america was not founded on the judeo christian concept of god
David Silverman and American Atheists are the new KKK. Their hatred knows no bounds. They are textbook definition bigot and hatemongerers.
No we're not. You're wrong again.
The KKK and their white nationalist progeny are Christian organizations. That's why they BURN CROSSES. It wasn't atheist hate that caused 9/11…it was religious hate.
You may as well be saying "all black people are like so-and-so", because that's how ignorant you sound. Your use of the "KKK" is all kinds of ironic.
Oh good grief! I don't agree with the lawsuit, but I am more and more tired of other people shoving their religion in my face, and on that front I can understand the urge to try to block the cross. To draw a correlation with the KKK and hatemongering though is ridiculous.
Before you say another word, think for a minute about how members of your faith continuously push for legislation to force others to your way of life, force your morality, spark witch hunts for radicalized members of other religions even though it's more often than not white guys gunning down crowds in schools, theatres, grocery store parking lots, etc. Your noses in everybody else's business is why you're seeing some push back from atheist groups. Stop messing with the rest of us and maybe nobody will kick up a fuss. Stop insuating your faith into our government, our legal system, our politics.
Personally, I have no problem with an artifact in a museum, but I am tired of your faith screwing with my life.
@eat, well said! This is why it upsets me. All these religious groups trying like hell to get their belief to be the one you believe in too. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! I'm sorry but I don't care what you say, what monument you put up or whatever, i'm not going to stop being an athiest. So what makes me better than them? i'm not trying to turn you into an athiest. @Eat, your right.. just let us live our lives without this crap being forced down our throat whenever someone thinks you should believe the way I do. That insanity, nothing more, nothing less.
It's really quite simple. Church and state are separate because society functions better that way. In the middle ages, church and state were in cahoots, and you got the inquisition. Today, you get fundamental Islamic terrorism. Terrorism is radical, state sponsored, religion. Their death cry is Allah Akbar, or God is Great, as they slaughter innocents. They scream a verse from the Koran, their Bible, as they kill people. Religion has been used to justify killing every since the beginning of civilization. It is the most intense way to motivate someone: promises of rewards after death. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton thought this needed to stop, and did not recognize any particular religion as being the one sponsored by the state. They based our laws on ethics, which have their foundations in logic and the greater good, and not morals, which are religiously prescribed rules. WTC 1 & 2 were public property. The people who were murdered on 11SEP2001 were from all walks of life. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists were all murdered. I don't believe in Vishnu, Buddha, Allah, Moses, or Jesus. But I will respect your right to worship as you please. But please don't put your religions emblem on a mass grave because you think it's your right. Put the religions emblem on your loved one's grave.
Separation of church and state is not equated with the oppression of religion. Separation of church and state swings both ways. Opressing the free speech of other Americans is the new age bigotry.
I once saw a cross on a pet's grave. I didn't know a pet could be Christian.
very well said Drake! probably the single most thought out comment Ive seen on here. I applaud you!
Disallowing a cross is not suppressing religion. It is keeping religion out of state affairs.
I had not thought about it as a mass grave. On that level I can see a case to fight the cross, but it's not being set as a grave marker, but rather as a piece of the history of the place. Doesn't bother me so much...
Comments are not pre-screened before they post.
Only yours are. It's a conspiracy.
Only comments of a certain length, containing particular words. That's fine and dandy when you're talking about curse words or infammatory comments, although they seem to be less concerned with the latter when their word filter fails to catch it. I just wish they'd be honest about it.
If you don't believe in anything then this cross should not be a problem for you. The golden arches of Mc Donald's has more meaning to atheists.
It's not the meaning behind the cross, it's the tax payer dollars that are funding it. Would you be alright paying for a Muslim symbol at ground zero?
The cross is just one exhibit amongst many. Legally, it's fine (like a creche) amongst other symbols.
To suppress this exhibit would unfairly restrict free speech.
@Kevin, by your logic, if a group of Muslims want to have something to commemorate those who flew the planes into the building, that would simply be free speech. There are restrictions to free speech.
Its not like Christians brought a cross from New Jersey and put it up at Ground Zero. It is part of the wreckage. If a swastika was formed out of the wreckage, and hundreds of people crowded around it for some weird reason and used it as a symbol of comfort and solace, then yes it should go into the museum too. The problem here is that both sides are looking at this as a ME ME ME situation. Atheists are seeing this as Christians forcing their strong hand down on the rest of America, and Christians see this as Atheists trying to push religion out of our society. In fact, neither is happening (in this case). What happened here is that someone found something in the rubble that they could identify with, and with the help of a few others, displayed it for everyone to see. Some people found it to be a good thing. Others ignored it. Either way, it came from the rubble, and was a part of the experience, whether Atheists want to admit it or not.
So, what needs to happen, and the museum already said this, is that there is a piece of rubble that stood for a long time near the site as a beacon for some people to look toward for strength. It happened to be a cross, which happens to be Christian. If this exact same thing happened with ANY OTHER SYMBOL, then the museum would have done the exact same thing. If there was a bent piece of steel resembling a heart, or a crescent moon, or Chuck Norris' bicep, then I would expect the museum to have the exact same protocol.
Point being, it wouldn't have happened with any other symbol. The artifact was and most likely will be preserved /because/ it is a cross, a symbol of the most prevalent religion of our land, not the other way around.
If there had been a burn mark that could reasonably be said to resemble a certain Saudi prince of European decent, you can bet that it would be similarly preserved as "a miraculous picture of Jesus amongst the wreckage." It would look like soot to anyone else, much like this cross-member resembles a mere structural component of the building to anyone not of the Christian persuasion.
So then lets just get rid of all Native American, Jewish, Christian and all other religious art in every museum in America. Burn it all. Because it represents something that others don't believe in.
The money they've already spent preparing a lawsuit is probably more than the cost of keeping a cross in a museum forever.
The cross isn't hurting or insulting anyone, GET OVER IT. There are a million other artifacts that will go into this museum (if it ever gets built) that have nothing to do with religion, you can look at all those things while you hate on the religious stuff.
False dichotomy and poisoning the well. You have fun raging over your imaginary arguments.
As for whether inclusion of the symbol is insulting, I would submit that the impending lawsuit speaks to the contrary.
When you find yourself frothing about this to your friends later, be sure to mention that the ACLU is supporting your side. They don't get nearly enough credit for supporting religious freedom in all its forms.
I got black out drunk & pooped my bed this morning!
Speaking of Jesus, has anybody seen him lately? He's nowhere around. I'm starting to get a little worried. Oh...that's right. I almost forgot. He's invisible.
I thought I saw him in Boston, turns out it was just another homeless guy... could that have been him?
The Bible says call not man an Idiot. Boy, is that a tough one today.
Atheism is one of the worst forms of organized religion.
I do not believe in god but I cannot stand these people. Just let people heal.
Atheism is NOT a religion and more than abstinence is a S E X position.
Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
*ANY not and
There is a difference between simply not believing in god and coming together to believe in not believing in god, if that makes any sense.
If atheism isn't a religion, why are these people so worked up about their BELIEFs? Why do they buy billboards to get in the face of everyone else and try to CONVERT everyone else to their point of view? Why are they arguing even now for RELIGIOUS freedom, or separation of CHURCH and state? Fine, they aren't a religion – they're a freakin' cult. Same difference.
A lack of belief is a belief in the same way that bald is a hair color.
@OnlyOne – We purchase billboards to get our point across. Most of us could care less what people believe or how they worship, provided that does not infringe on our rights. As and atheist, I am concerned with the influence religion has on the general public, specifically when it comes to women's rights, civil rights, gay rights, and the like.
atheism is not a religion or even organized. you are very misinformed. American Atheist is a political activist organization much like the ACLU, women's rights groups, gay rights, etc.
atheism, the word is just a label applied by believers since they are a majority. No such label applies to people who don't wear socks or don't believe that gold does exist at the end of a rainbow.
Further, the Separation of Church and State is a very important issue in this country right now. Besides being illegal, it is also one of the most divisive issues of our time, when one religion attempts to force a belief system on others who have a differing view. Atheists are not the only group that is suing for violations to the Separation Clause.
just give the atheists an equal right. they can put NOTHING in the museum. makes me sick to my stomach.
Then take an anti-acid diane.
The first amendment makes you sick to your stomach? If you'd prefer that your government sponsor a particular religion, then perhaps a middle eastern theocracy is more your style. Or are you fine if taxpayers pay for muslim symbols to be put at ground zero.
We'll put a Speedy Alka-Seltzer statue in there for @diane!
There's a lot of atheists on this board showing their true colors with comments like: "Why not include symbols of every religion?" Would that really make it better for you? Then instead of one symbol you abhor, you'd have 4, or 5, or 10. You're not atheists, you're anti-Christians hiding under the mantle of atheism. You're bigots targeting a specific group. No better than so many other groups of bigots throughout history, including the fundamentalist Christians you despise so vehemently.
So exclude other religious symbols? Not bigotry at all, just asking for equality.
Seems that there's a lot more religious zealots showing their true colors, actually... but don't let a little thing like reality get in the way of a good rant.
Gee, Dave, why are you so against having religious symbols of all religions represented? It couldn't be because you're bigoted against any viewpoint but your own, could it?
Dave, I think this is only fair given the fact that Christians have imposed themselves in our laws and government, in our politics, in our classrooms, on our money, in our pledges, in our swearings, in our international relations, in our workplaces, and in nearly every other facet of society. Why don't you tell me exactly when you'll feel like you've influenced enough of the country, so then I'll know when to get upset?
Not despise, pity. We pity your stupid, naive, unable-to-cope weak mind.
"We pity your stupid, naive, unable-to-cope weak mind."
So your response is everyone who doesn't have an imagination like you is they are stupid and weak? The issue is about equality and inclusiveness. You were totally cool with the proposed muslim community center building plans right?
Atheists have every right to hold their own ceremonies and events.
not around me they don't!
Because we all know atheists aren't really Americans and have no right to participate in any national ceremony, regardless of wether they lost friends or family on 9/11, without being coerced into passively approving the Christian values that got all those people killed in the first place.
Sweet little diane...so you get to decide what people do around you, but nobody else has any rights? You sound like a proper communist. Why don't you go back to your trailer court and hush?
Then diane the same argument can be used against you.
Problem with that Barney is that Atheists don't have ceremonies or such. We are not organized for "religious" purposes, often we only get together for political reasons for the most part.
This is overreach, why so mad? If you get mad at stupid you'll just stress yourself into an early grave. Let the xchans alone on this one. Once you start trying to shove your own beliefs down their throats you become just like them.
Mock them for their stupidity; their murderous past; their unbelievable belief system; but let them mourn their dead in their own way. Sallright I'll give you a mulligan on this one.
The more rational atheists here are correct. All this is doing is presenting yourselves as obnoxious, petty, self-serving prigs that no one's going to empathize with. Your idiocy reminds me of those Westboro Baptist Church maroons that protest at soldiers' funerals – you guys seriously need to hit a reset button and take a deep breath.
And yet, only...you are doing the same with your name calling...hmmm....Hypocrite.
I would say your comment is quite petty, obnoxious, and self serving. What makes you rational?
I'm not the one getting in the face of 9/11 families and preaching to them about how the memorabilia of their cherished affects your collective sensitive dispositions. I'm not the one acting as though the rest of the country need to walk on eggshells around me! You don't approve of me? Fine, I'll still sleep pretty well at night. Just let these families remember their dead without your incessant whining and posturing.. you are truly as annoying as the fundamentalists.
"Walking on eggshells" is a reference commonly used amongst Borderline Personality Disorders, also known as Splitters. These people like to jump in between people and split them apart, causing rifts on both sides to satisfy their sadistic sense of worthlessness.
Onlyone, your comments are quite hilarious. You are the one whining and posturing and asking all to walk on eggshells around your beliefs.
How (and why) did the photographer fit that Priests entire stomach in the photo? Blessed are the full of belly, for they shall get to bless a big chunk of steel while looking like they are about to set fire to a Witches burning pyre...
Thank you for that. Nice to laugh in the a.m.
I undestand the desire to fight for religious liberty. I just wish you could do it without being such a souless ass hole. This is 9/11 and the cross is the immage (for the majoirty of people who lost loved ones) of the redemtive love of Jesus. The cross is a image of love that brings comfort to children who have lost thier fathers, because it promises that they will get to see them again in the resurection. Stop painting chrisitans as intolerant until you are willing to share in the tollerance. Let the Chrisians have thier sign of hope and love. Let wives have hope that they will see husbands again. Please be tollerant and learn to appreciate other cultures.
Well said. There's nothing "humanist" about this behavior – idiotist would be more apropos.
Speaking of appreciating other cultures.....the cross was a religious relic long before the Christians adopted, and revisioned it for themselves. In fact one (of many) miscues in the gospels is when Jesus is claimed to have ordered his apostles to "take up the cross" – the cross would not have had meaning to Jesus when he was living....unless of course....oh right.....the cross had been around as a religious symbol for thousands of years.....oops.
Tyson, There is a time and place for religious worship and reflection: in your place of worship or in your home. Since the WTC is neither a place or worship or personal residence, it is inappriopriate to display any religious symbol. These are not the words of a "souless ass hole". Rather they are the words of a fellow Christian who understands and appreciates that not everyone believes as I do. Each deserves the freedom to practice any religion they wish, but not at the cost of infringing upon other's rights.
I have freinds who died in the twin towers, they were muslim in point of fact, each group has it's own symbolism and each has a right to be represented in the USA. And while i'm ususally at the head of the line to lmao at your collective stupidity, not today, and never about the dead, heck that's the whole reason people invented religion to begin with so use it for what it's good for.
I'm a Christian but disapprove of a cross being there. This is not a Christian nation, this is a nation of all religions who are perfectly equal in status under the law. Therefore a symbol for each religion of the people that died should be there, or none at all. Worldwide, the perception that one's religion is better than another is the root of most evil and intolerance.
Yes, and I find it ironic that this symbol of Christian fanaticism is the source of controversy for a tragedy that was caused by Islamic fanaticism.
The cross is controversial because it honors a terrorist aka fictional jesus who wants to send atheists to hell. The story of jesus is fictional like batman or superman. Such stupidity has no place in civil society.
Christians are dumb... Our founding fathers knew these disgusting christians will try to take over america like they did in Europe which is why they decided to keep church out of state.
"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."
-James Madison, 4th President and Founding Father of America
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.