September 10th, 2012
06:15 PM ET

Atheists continue battle against World Trade Center cross at memorial

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Eleven years after the World Trade Center attack, the billion dollar memorial and museum dedicated to the victims of 9/11 is just half that - a memorial without an operating museum.

And though a dispute between New York City’s mayor and New York’s governor is responsible for delaying the opening, a separate legal battle is aimed at blocking one museum exhibit in particular: a large cross made of one of the twin tower’s T-beams that became a national symbol in the days after the 2001 attacks.

A national group called American Atheists is suing the museum to stop the display of the cross, arguing that a religious symbol has no place in a memorial that’s backed by public funds and that is supposed to serve as a monument to victims of many different religions - and to those who had no religion at all.

“It is important that it not be displayed to the exclusion of everyone else,” said David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, which first filed suit in July 2011. “This case is about inclusion, it is not about the elimination of religion, it is about the inclusion of everyone.”

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum says it included the cross because it “became an icon of hope and comfort throughout the recovery in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.”

The case has gained national attention and has become important to many atheists and religious Americans alike. While atheist blogs and publications have pushed this case, spearheaded by American Atheists, conservative religious groups such as the American Center for Law and Justice have cited it as an example of growing anti-Christian sentiment and have filed an amicus brief in support of his display.

In light of all the attention, one legal expert says the atheists’ legal case is “absurd.”

“I think the odds of a court ordering the cross removed are literally zero,” said Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s legal analyst. “The museum is not building a place for religious worship, they are preserving a historical relic that was meaningful to a great many people and part of the story of 9/11.”

Toobin compared the cross’s inclusion in the museum with the many other instances in which government-funded museums feature religious artwork.

“When the government is surveying a historic development, the government does not have to exclude religions images and artifacts from its displays,” Toobin said.

The 17-foot cross was discovered by Frank Silecchia, a construction worker who helped with the clean up and recovery at ground zero. The cross is a steel T-beam, a common architectural device used in the building of the World Trade Center towers.

The case hasn’t gotten anywhere since it was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The lawsuit names prominent government officials, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both of whom play a role in the deciding how the World Trade Center site is used.

Caught in a funding battle between Bloomberg on the one hand and Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the other, it is unclear about when the museum will open. The memorial opened last year, on September 12, after families of those killed on September 11 marked the 10-year anniversary at the memorial.

The museum did not respond to a request for comment.

In documents submitted to the court, the museum defends the inclusion of the cross, saying that “the 9/11 Museum is an independent nonprofit corporation. Its curators’ decisions to display particular objects, such as the Artifact, in the Museum are not state actions to which Constitutional protections apply.”

In the same documents, the museum argues that even if constitutional protections apply, “there is no legal authority for the proposition that a museum is prohibited from displaying an item with historical, cultural or artistic significance merely because that item also has religious significance.”

Silverman rejects that argument. “The argument that this is not a religious symbol is asinine and arrogant,” he says. “They want 9/11 to appear to be an attack on Christianity, and it was not.”

Shortly after plans for a 9/11 museum started to be worked out, Silecchia, the construction worker, and the Rev. Brian Jordan, a priest who ministered to firefighters and emergency responders at ground zero, began to press to the inclusion of the World Trade Center cross in the memorial and museum.

“First of all, it is an artifact of ground zero,” Jordan told the Irish Echo, a small publication in New York, in 2002. “And secondly, it is sacred ground, for God’s sake.”

Jordan declined interview requests, saying in an e-mail that “after a careful period of reflection, I have decided not to make any public comment at this time.”

In the same interview, Jordan argued that the reason it should be included is because most of the victims were Christians - “the plurality of which were Catholic,” Jordan said. The cross was first displayed near the edge of ground zero, until on October 5, 2006, the cross was moved to St. John’s Church, where it sat on the corner of Barclay and Vesey streets.

Jordan’s efforts for the cross’ inclusion were successful, when on July 23, 2011, Jordan blessed the cross at a ceremony in Zuccotti Park before it was transported into its permanent setting in the museum.

“After a 10-year journey of faith, the World Trade Center Cross has finally found its home,”  Jordan said in a statement at the time.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • New York • United States

soundoff (5,753 Responses)
  1. Gorsh

    I don't understand the atheist need to rail against religion. One thing that I hear most often from atheists is how they hate the way religious people push their beliefs on others. Yet any time CNN has a religion related story, there are countless atheists pushing their opinions as fact, outnumbering the religious by two or more to one.
    Are the "evangelical atheists" so un-self-aware as to not realize their own hypocrisy?

    September 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      so, I see.. simply STATING an opinion is pushing it on you. How...weak willed of you to feel that way.

      No one is forcing you. no one is giving you death threats for putting your religious iconography up permanently everywhere. Only trying to stop you via lawsuits when it's government land and tax dollars. T

      he death threats seem to be reserved for the use of Christains in their complaints about billboards. Non permanent, privately paid for on private land.

      Who's trying to force who, again?

      September 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  2. johnnyrod8

    Grow up derp

    September 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  3. Mach4

    For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
    For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
    But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  4. Dr. R. Holcombe

    To the athiests and such, who believe in the Nebulous Nothing, all I can say is put a cork in it and get a real life! This country was built on the premise of God, and as such, it will remain so. Save your whining for another day! Maybe, do something meaningful in your lives.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • UncleM

      What is meaningful about fairy stories?

      September 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Joe

      Ditto – faith is in this great country's very heart and core and founding. Believe I recal hearing at times some very notable scientists (physicists...) who also have faith to some degree. Regardless of one's faith, it brings people together and during hard times oftens helps people feel better. These people need to stop wasting time

      September 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • WASP

      @dr: go back and re-read american history. america was founded on equality and freedom of and from religion. america has NO official religion, we accept ALL religions. thus put a cork in it yourself.

      i remember you hypocrites protesting the "ground zero mosque" but it's ok to put a cross up at a site where americans of many beliefs died.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Translation : Shut up, sit down, so we can ignore you and pretend you don't exist.

      Having to acknowledge that we exist really seems to get your goat. do we... damage your calm?

      September 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  5. Believe in nothing

    Atheist logic...

    97% of scientist believe in man made global warming so if you don't believe it you are and idiot..
    90% of the worlds population believe in some sort of religion. But we are right and you are wrong and are therefore idiots.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • UncleM

      But all the gods and religions are different. And you hate each other!

      September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • serdich

      not in Europe 60% non-believers...even in US 30% non-believers..

      September 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Some of these creation stories...are not fit to be told in mixed company, let alone let children hear them.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  6. 6packmuscle

    Why can't they have EVERY religion represented at 9/11 ?? it seems to me abit narrow minded.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Gorsh

      I suppose we could have representation by population. The cross would be 10' tall, the star of David 1' tall, and the atheists would have a Post It in the corner with a snarky expression of disgust on it.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      This was asked. Not enough room.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  7. Qman

    I don't want to ever hear an athiest say that only people who believe in God force their opinions on others ever again.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Scott

      Nobody says that. What they say, is that people who believe in god force their religion on others, and they do.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Sorry. People with a belief in religion are the ones who try and force their belief on others. Atheists make you acknowledge that they don't believe the same thing as you do, this is not forcing you to believe as they do, unless you think having someone talk to you is 'force'.

      Atheists aren't trying to make you do anything. Oh, some may ridicule you, but people of other faiths will ridicule youre beliefs too... look at how many Christians ridicule Mitten's Mormon faith.

      What they're trying to do here is enforce the establishment clause. Government money and government land should not be used for a religious reason. And a 20 foot tall 'cross' blessed where someone etched the name 'jesus' near the top of it... is a religious symbol. Put it in one of the nearby churches.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  8. Hitchens

    James Madison would be offended by the cross in a public place.

    "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

    September 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • babs

      Thank you. This happend because one religion thought it was better than the rest. Let's learn something.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  9. serdich

    You know may be gods were pulling a prank on 9/11like that story.what was it..."Having fun with Job"...

    September 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  10. KLN

    If athiests are bothered by the cross, then don't go to the musuem. We cannot and will not erase Christianity from the United States because a minority group of people are "bothered" by it. I'm bothered by athiests, but I still respect them enough to allow them their freedom of expression and speech.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • serdich

      Owww you have not read the lasted statistics based on the census and the global index of religion...in US as of now 30% defined themselves are non-religious and never been in a church..16% them are Atheists..

      September 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Zeus Christ

      Christianity is a fad that started taking over as response to America's fear of communism in the 1950s. The evangelical overly religious fad will fade over time once again. It's a major cycle through history for thousands of years.

      the Dark Ages will evolve into inspired intellectual jumps.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  11. Alicia

    Wow.. CNN is really grasping at straws to keep this article in for a 3rd day.... and it's even part of their 911 ceremonies section.

    To me, this is a "no story" and simply a news filler at this point. Keep up the good work CNN.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  12. noahsmock

    @serdich I agree 100% that all symbols should be allowed into the record without preference to Christians or any other cult. I wan't aware that was at issue here. In the case of anyone seeking to exclude an artifact on biased grounds (instead of practical), there is a distrotion of the record. Again.. is that at issue with the cross here? I don't see anything that says that the cross getting in means all other religious iconography is out. You're using this to whine about Christian favortism in the US? Your points are better taken when they are not emotional.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • KLN

      Last I checked Christianity was not a "cult." It's the most widely accepted religion in the United States. Look up the definition of a cult.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
      • noahsmock

        A popular cult.

        September 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • serdich

      the lawsuit is not about removing the cross, as you know, its a fight to include the Atom next to the cross...and you the spiritual people dont like it...so much for respect.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
      • noahsmock

        Not spiritual. Wrong thread, dude.

        September 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Flippy1124

      @KLN – The definition of a cult is a religion that is unpopular. The definition of a relgion is a cult that is popular.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      According to the lawsuit specifics, other religious items are 'out' The ADL was originally part of the lawsut, but they were given special status, rabbis allowed to go in take debris and make a star of David.

      The reason for the lawsuit it that they are defending this item, on public grounds and using tax payer money – as a secular artifact. And that possible precedent is part of the problem.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  13. donna

    In The Grand Design, Hawking writes, "The universe began with the Big Bang, which simply followed the inevitable law of physics," Hawking writes. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing."

    Do you see it? It's "The Grand Flaw" of the atheists.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Zeus Christ

      Nothing wrong with hyperbole and the law of gravity.

      At least it's falsifiable through research. Religion will always change the answer with who is in power and how it best fits what they want to believe. Religion is not falsifiable therefore not a fact.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      What's your point? Still no proof of a god.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • donna

      Your flaw is to believe the Creator cannot exist without religion, yet Hawking introduced one himself.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Alicia

      Right.... the laws of physics "appeared" from wherever they were all the time prior to the big bang (if there was even one of them). Everything happened by itself. Why didn't I think of that?, I could have had a Pulitzer with "Alicia" on it. (do they come in green? that's my color)

      Anyway, people have to believe what other people lead them to believe, right?...

      September 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • serdich

      so an invisible man in the sky with beard ...solves all issues..

      September 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • donna

      @Drink Koolaid – By his own words, Hawking's "spontaneously generated universe" was the result of intention.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • donna

      @Alicia – LOL – exactly! "Because the laws of writing exists, the Pulitzer Prize can and will create itself randomly into your hands."

      September 11, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Alicia

      LOL @ donna... Kudos girl!.

      Maybe we can BOTH share the Pulitzer.... lets put our heads together on this.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • I wonder


      So, Gravity loves you, then, when you make it across the room without falling... and it hates you when you go thud?

      September 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Farmer John

      donna & alice,

      You girls are more likely to get the Pullet Surprise!

      September 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  14. Daddy2010

    The letter "T" reminds me of a cross. I am deeply offended. Henceforth, it shall be referred to as "_he World _rade Cen_er Memorial".

    September 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  15. Joe

    No matter what the faith, all have one thing in common, faith in something. The US and its laws were founded on Christian principles. These people are so offended by a cross at an already extravegant memorial then I think they need to find somethig better to do. Besides the way I see it, why should those who want display the cross there (first put up by those on site that dreadful day and as such should be part of the memorial) be forced not to by atheists. Atheists choose not to believe, and well in my book that in a legal and literal sense is a belief. Their belief to follow a way of life void of belief in God. But one could argue since they are also in groups that theirs is an organized religion. All I know is it must be nice with some many things wrong to have the time to fight such stupid things and to ruin things that for millions of others their faith is a welcome break from problems facing many, Get a life

    September 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Zeus Christ

      And where do you think Christian principles come from? Humanity has been better their ideas of moral and ethics for tens of thousands of years. Long before religions were established and took credit for these princples.

      The founding father's were not as christian as you think.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • noahsmock

      Equivocation at its worst. Awful.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Tom

      They were not founded on religious principles – they were founded on the principle that you shouldn't be forced to attend any church if you choose not too. It was "choice" that America was founded on. Quit bending history to make your opinion fact.

      September 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      The US was founded on Humanist and Enlightened principles. NOT Christian ones.

      "Christian principles" in the late 18th century included slavery as a necessity and not against either natural and divine law.

      Christian principles with regarding protestants at the time, the held that catholics (irish) were second class citizens and could only in rare cases own land.

      Christian principles held that a woman and all her possessions belonged to her husband. Children belonged to their fathers.

      What you are trying to say.... is the unbelievable and anachronistic idea that this country was founded by people who held the religious principles of mid 20th century america in the mid to late 18th. It shows a blindingly woeful lack of historical knowledge

      September 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  16. Tigrr

    This is what they should be reporting - Bush WH did it....
    see youtbe - CIA Asset Susan Lindauer Can Now Speak 10 years after 9-11.
    Congress knew and did nothing... still doing nothing. Who owns this country?

    September 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  17. Yeah Go Right Ahead

    There will soon be a time when the "American Athiests" will wish they had a cross or GOD to look at.......Most theologians believe Hell to be a DARK and desolate place....

    September 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      What evidence do you have for your comments?

      September 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Dr. R. Holcombe

      itsallaloadofbollocks, if nothing else, you will have a moral compass to look up to. It ain't the Christians who are going around committing all those hideous crimes in this country. I believe we are just as infested by criminals as vermin who refuse to see why they are being battered by evil deeds.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • janey33

      itsallaloadofbollocks...you atheists keep demanding proof. You will have the proof when you die. But I sincerely hope that you find God before then so you will avoid the Hell that you don't believe exists.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Zeus Christ

      The entire mythologyy of Jesus is simply a several stories from thousands of years before the year 0. When people sat down to create parts of the Bible they pulled from other stories that had good messages. The Bible is not a factual account of a supernatural power.

      Why not believe in other fairy tales?

      September 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • WASP

      @dr: moral compass to look up to? seriously? you bigotes protested a peaceful mosque here in NYC because you didn't want it near the world trade center site.

      get real we want all religion or no religion represented at the site, thus nothing new for we atheists fighting for equality and nothing new for christians to fight for their fairytale bigotry.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Holcombe – when only 1% of all prison inmates are atheists, the rest are all religious, predominantly Christain...

      who is the immoral ones again?

      September 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Yes Wasp... they protested a muslim (SUFI!! ) run community center a couple of blocks from the northern edge of the WTC grounds (which is 6 city blocks in size) When there is AND HAS BEEN a mosque 3 blocks from the WTC grounds that predates it's opening in 1970.

      People talking about my city like they know something about it. from a thousand miles away.

      September 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  18. Wrenn_NYC

    The cross is being included and in the court briefs they call it a 'secular' symbol. The reason to fight it is because a cross, blessed , and with the name JESUS scratched into it is NOT a secular symbol, and the precedent in law for allowing such is troubling.

    They also 'bought off' the ADL by letting them take rubble from the site and make a star of David to be displayed near the cross. This does nothing for people of other faiths. OR no faith.

    People are deluding themselves. Wow... the 'chances' that a steel beam found welded at 90 degree angles to another!! It's not like we EVER build buildings with 90 degree angle welds of one beam to another!!

    It's a piece of debris. rusted, with pits of other debris stuck and welded by the heat of the fire to it here and there. It's also 20 feet tall... Which is pretty standard a length for a construction work.

    September 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  19. Jeff Corcoran

    Really? This is what this country was built on. If they do not like it then leave and go to another country. It is people like you, and your ways, that has resulted in the evil in this country. There will come a day you are shown your errors. I thank God , and the "Cross" for that truth!!!!

    September 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Shakira

      No this country was built on Freedom of Religion by deists who believed in god but not a Christian one.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Larry

      Shakira, there's just one God as I know Him...you gotta quit living your mythological life!!

      September 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • NoTheism

      Larry, and that's your belief. There are millions, if not billions of people that would disagree with you. There have been thousands+ gods that humans believed in since we started trying to explain things. How do you know your god is the true god? Personal experience right? That's great, but that only works for you. Others require empirical evidence, which is the basis for objective knowledge, and not subjective (such as what you have).
      Have a good day.

      September 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • derp

      "Really? This is what this country was built on"

      This country was founded on the single principle of individual liberty and the protection of inalienable individual rights.

      There was noting christian about it.

      The first amendment and the treaty of Tripoli could not be more clear.

      Did you actually go to school?

      September 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  20. Hitchens

    Fictional Jesus: ………………..(26 mins)…………


    September 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
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About this blog

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.