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.
Part of being aetheist is respecting the religions of others. Maybe they should come up with a symbol (or is it already "nothing" lol) and they should also be able to proudly present it as well. I used to be an aetheist when I was younger, but then I realized you cant be too sure about anything. So now I'm an agnostic. You cant confirm or deny the existance. Look at the universe.. so many unanswered questions.....
So if that's a part of Atheism, why isn't also a part of religion in general?
Why should Atheists be expected to respect others' religions when religious people can't even show respect for other religions, let alone Atheism?
It is part of every religion. I was just discussing aetheism, specifically. I do think it should be a part of every religion.
"It is part of every religion."
Not from what I see.
Respect for other religions or beliefs is NOT a part of every religion, and in fact is directly contradictory to almost every major religions core tenets. They tollerate other religions, just barely, but not respect, unless you define respect as telling your parishioners that if you go to the other Chruch or Mosque down the road God will burn you for eternity and you are obviously an agent of Satan.
I find it stupid to bring religion into the monument. Why secularize this event? It was an attack on America not Christianity. An American flag or a statue of a brave firefighter would have been better, something everyone could feel a part of... though my example ideas for replacement monuments may be stupid! :) .
For the record I also feel the American Atheist group (or whatever the name is) is pathetic. This is coming from a fairly atheist agnostic viewpoint.
Hey, finally, a common-sense idea! let's be all-inclusive instead of introducing a religious symbol. Let's put up the American flag, since of course, the people that suffered at the hands of terrorists here were of all faiths and I'm sure agnostics and atheist americans.
i agree that they should have made it about attacking America not Christianity. People of all religions died in those buildings. Even though I am agnostic, I would let this one go. I would have preferred a more inclusionary symbol, because contrary to the Christian right this is NOT a christian country. It is a country founded on religious (or not) freedom.
How about including signs and symbols from other faiths and non faiths. That would make us happy instead of a big non inclusive cross that says "Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, etc, NOT WELCOME"
I agree. Isnt it religion that got us into this crap-flinging contest in the first place?
This cross is a big symbol that says "Haha we're forcing our christian beliefs on you" dont even THINK about building a mosque on ground zero, put up a few atheist billboards and we'll go absolutely crazy and send you death threats too
The cross is a great symbol that shows the infinite care God has for human beings. In the salvation won on the Cross, human nature was at stake, and what is human nature, but the image and likeness of God.
Really is that what you tell the millions of dead souls that were slaughtered in the name of the Cross and God?
Really? Seriously? Look, I'm all about keeping religion out of government, but are you for real with this?
Who's forcing you to kneel down and pray at this cross? Who's forcing you to convert to Catholicism? Who's threatening to let you starve, fire you, throw you in jail, beat you up, or kill you for not being what you think a half-melted t-beam wants you to be?
I tell them that human beings were created only to know the good, but that at a point in time the human race in its entirety ("Adam and Eve") chose to know evil also ("to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"). That they were created in the image and likeness of God but that inherited choice impinges upon them and that they need to reject the bad and choose the good. At one point they will either totally reject the good or and accept the evil or totally chose the good and reject the evil. No middle ground here. I also tell them that God took upon himself the entirety of human evil in the passion and death of Christ which bought hope through his resurrection on Easter Sunday. I tell them that even the evil of doing evil in the name of God is covered under that redemptive act of God. I must say, that my Jewish and Slavic ancestors were murdered en mass by members of the atheist Nazis and Soviets. Even those evils are covered by that redemptive grace given by God. I cry with them and mingle my own tears with them, and I can only apologize for the awful things human beings have done in the name of the good God. Atheism has its practical forms too, no matter what one proclaims with the mouth and most atheists I know are seekers of the truth in some way or another.
I suppose we could erect a sign that says, "The love and sorrow that you feel for these people is meaningless. Your loved ones' consciousness is gone, and their bodies, if not completely decayed, are being fed on by insects and fungi." That might please the atheists.
Works for me!
I think next to that sign you should have a suicide machine. Deposit 1 quarter for your meaningless life to end.
Why should it say love and sorrow are meaningless? Are you implying that nothing is real if you're not a Christian?
That consciousness ends with the physical body makes our brief lives all the more significant.
If you are an Atheist then the Cross should mean nothing to you so whats the problem? This cross made of steel beams gave people hope and faith so I see no reason for it not to be part of the memorial! Should we not fly our conutries flag either? All this politically correct crap needs to stop.
The purpose of including the cross isn't to advance Christianity, but to show an artifact that was culturally important and relevant to a large number of people as a result of the attacks. The museum will be full of similar artifacts. Is displaying a wedding ring of a victim promoting marriage and insulting single people?
Also, 9/11 was an attack on the totality of American culture, including Christianity. The fanatics that carried it out are equal opportunity haters that see the U.S. as the haven of false religions, atheists, $exual immorality, decadence, etc. There is no point in arguing about who was or is the target. If you have not embraced their particular brand of Islam, you are a target.
Its also offensive and non inclusive to a growing segment of the population. You insist on rubbing our faces in symbols of Christianity but when a mosque gets built it gets firebombed in Missouri, don't even THINK of building one on ground zero, put up a few atheist buildings and every one goes crazy
Cross is a hate symbol. Do you think a swastika would be put in the museum if it was found in the rubble???
Similarly people need to be educated that Jesus was a fictional terrorist who wants to torture anyone who does not follow him by sending them to hell. Jesus reminds me of Hitler.
If 9/11 didn't highlight the dangers of religion, I don't know what will.
We will continue to fight against any public funded displays of religion... ANY religion... until people comprehend that killing one another over 1,600 year old Mesopotamian mythology is wrong.
Hitchens, a cross is a hate symbol only to those that hate Christianity. You don't have to believe Christianity, but don't call it a hate symbol. Also, do you want to deny non-Christian literature such as written by Josephus that Jesus lived? Keep deluding yourself.
Why don't atheists like lower case T's? Does it have something to do with the alphabet?
They have a deep seeded hatred of the Phoenecians. And Christians.
If it bothers the Atheists, then they should just stay away. I am fed up with the minority dictating to the majority and it's time they shut their mouths. One can only be pushed so far until enough is enough and the fight begins, literally.
Learn american history first disgusting xian.
"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
Spoken like a true Christian.
Yeah, the majority should just do whatever it is they would like...you know, like they did with slavery. If the majority thinks it's ok, then it must be, right? Moron.
You're fed up? YOU'RE fed up?! LMAO!
The atheists are in the majority now. Sorry to break reality to you.
@Hitchens: Just which amendment is it again that states separation of church and state?
Don't worry, they don't have a legal or logical leg to stand on in this argument.
"I am fed up with the minority dictating to the majority and it's time they shut their mouths."
Ya ever think that is the way the minorities feel about the majority? I forgot freedom of/from religion and freedom of speech only applies to you though.
Countryproud, I'm not defending the American Atheists position on this matter, but "if you don't like you can stay away" is simply not an acceptable policy. It's naive and self-centered, and distinctly un-American.
And as for being sick of a minority influencing the majority, I'm sorry but that's democracy. Contrary to popular belief, democracy does not mean "majority rules," it means that everyone is equally represented and equally protected whether they are in the majority or not. It seems like it's always the God Bless America "patriots" that are not actually very supportive of American values.
Hey Countryproud, Atheists believe in gun right to you inbred ignorant imbecile. You shoot first and we will return fire.
Great, another supposedly patriotic internet tough guy with no goddamn sense of history.
This country was founded on the idea that the majority doesn't get the final say in everything. Church of England? Hello? Idiot.
If Jesus coud heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness??? oo maybe because Jesus was a fraud
maybe, maybe not. i will choose to believe. better than being wrong. which in your case you will find out first hand.
Pascal's wager cajr is stupid, anyone who follows that logic is brainwashed and full of fear.
Someone once said: I believe in... INCLUSION for ALL - Don't Hate - Don't be INTOLERANT - Don't look down on other's beliefs - Don't impose your belief on me - RESPECT others! Everyone: Let's live this way. >> BUT, how I actually live out my life: I'm NOT inclusive toward anything or anyone that has to do with that x religion - I DISLIKE those people - They are STUP... (believe me: God is NOT real and believe me, I know I'm right. I'm not imposing what I believe, I'm just right) - I'M RIGHT and those x are wrong (though I pretend I am tolerant) - I am INTOLERANT toward xians and toward anyone who is not as tolerant as I am... Deep thought. (read this page) - I show NO RESPECT for certain people who believe in something so silly like what they believe. Gosh, I need to be more consistent with what I say and pretend to be - at least that is one thing I can claim as true. Pause. Let's remember our loved ones from 9-11, this day is not about you or me.
This gives a bad name to atheists in the US. No idea why this group is picking this battle. It's just a piece of history from that day, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be displayed in a museum. As an atheist myself, I don't like that this group is damaging the name of non-belief.
Please don't consider this group to represent all atheists. Think of how Westboro Baptist represents Christian groups. Same thing. Sorry, on behalf of those who are actually sane and respectful. This is obviously an act to seek attention.
The cross is a symbol of hate to torture non believers in hell. Jesus is a myth. Why not put statues of batman, superman, spiderman in the museum too.
If you think this gives atheists a bad name, then you don't understand the problem...
...because this is a piece of history. Forget the religious implications. It's twisted metal from the building and became part of an important image atop the rubble. This isn't the place to pick fights over the existence of a deity. I'm a non-believer but I'm not going to throw a fit if someone wants to include a piece of history in a museum.
Tell that to the families of Muslim 9/11 victims who have raised the same concern.
Its being displayed in a *museum*, not the memorial. Is an historical artifact. Period. The fact that it has religious significance for some alters that status in no way.
There are no comparable artifacts to include for other belief groups. To try to include some, or to try to exclude this one, is comparable with trying to re-write history.
@Chris – completely agree with you. I am an ardent atheist, but I think the position taken by the American Atheists is just wrong. I would completely reject Rev. Jordan's rationales regarding the area being "sacred ground" and the fact that most of the victims were Christian, but the "cross" is an historic relic associated with this tragedy and I believe it deserves to be in the museum. I don't see it as establishment of religion in any way.
Even if there were a colorable argument on the part of the AA, this is definitely not where I would want our limited resources allocated. Wrong battle to pick even if we had a fighting chance. Yes, principle matters, but we're trying to win a larger war here as well, and the way this is perceived by open minded "prospects" matters as well.
Fictional Jesus: ………………..(26 mins)……………
Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.
In a time of chimpanzees, you were a monkey.
Promote your favorite mythology on your own dollar.
"They have a right to "not believe" and we have a right to "believe."
Yes, thats true. But when does belief end and forced conversion begin? It begins with you claiming we shouldn't use ANY federal tax dollars to help women pay for birth control while at the same time claiming we should use lot's of federal tax dollars to put your God's name up in bright lights either here at ground zero or anywhere accorss the country at public courthouses and in schools. Fvck you and the hypocritical self righteous w horse you rode in on.
@Truth: Mad Bro?
you do make a valid point
Not mad. Just sick and tired of ignorance, incompetence and smug hypocrasy that is just constantly shoveled onto everyone and everything here in America. The religious scream "War On" at just about anything that doesn't comepletely open up and accept their brand of insanity as sane. If we were to ask them to maybe not advertise for Christmas 3 months early we'd be accused of attacking someones faith. Since when did marketing and advertising to make a buck become an excerside in faith? Since when did a giant plastic Santa become the symbol for an individuals sincerity to their religion. I'm not mad, i'm sick to my stomach at the pure unadulterated cesspool of disgusting things that organized religion represents today. And after being a Christian pastor for almost 30 years I know first hand how hypocritical it all is and how easy it is to lie to yourself about it than to face the facts that your parents who indoctrinated you into your brand of religious crazy aren't bad people, they just didn't know any better and did not have the tools to combat the widespread disease of religion. Much like many common man a few hundred years ago could not be blamed for believing the earth was flat, that was the commonly held belief for that time, however, that did not make it any more true.
Its a historical display in a museum. Take a deep breath, grow up, and concentrate on something important.
@Truth: disease of Atheism it more like it bro but I think you are mad bro.
How evil of them. That cross is a true miracle and a wonderful sign of hope during this awful day when such darkness was perpetrated on us. Atheism = godlessness = selfishness = darkness = no hope. Satan must be applauding them all the way.
When you place hope in an imaginary friend up in the clouds to stop evil, what you get is 9/11.
You do realize that you calling them all those nasty names and trying to force them to accept your vision of God makes you no better than them, right?
There was a lot of rubble at the site – why was this chosen? Because it resembles a christian cross! So it was chosen for religious reasons – specifically christian
no hope? hardly it is just the opposite.
no hope? hardly, it is just the opposite.
A wonderful sign of hope and miracle would have been if your god had stoped 2 employees from my company from dying that day. And for that matter, everyone else. But he instead saved to steel girders resembling the image you worship of the god you slew WHOO HOO! GO GOD!
For centuries after Jesus' death his followers wouldn't think of displaying a cross. They saw crosses as most humans see the Nazi Swastika. Today most Christians lack enough knowledge about the historical Jesus or his early followers to even understand their religion and it shows.
most of the time I am for separation of church and state and am quite vocal about it, but sometimes you let the small stuff go. this is one of those times...let it go.
Have to agree with you, this comes under the heading of "don't sweat the small stuff." I am not a believer of any organized religion, and I believe strongly in America as a secular nation. But this is an artifact from the site of the attacks, placed in a museum. Not public building like a court house, not in a state or federal park, a museum. It's about history, and its about healing.
Should we remove all the crosses from the Gettysburg battlefield because there were some dead soldiers who were not christians? Or perhaps take all the stars of David out of Holocaust memorials because some of the victims weren't jewish? This particular cross is part of the 9/11 legacy, and to quote Indiana Jones, "it belongs in a museum."
Move on, atheists, you have other more important battles to fight.
David Silverman, president of the American Atheists club, needs to get a life.....he must be a miserable person...like CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin stated, the atheists' case is "absurd"......time to move on Davey-boy.....
What's absurd, is that people consistently cave to religious pressure and dogma rather than set aside childish beliefs for reason, rationality and reality.
Why do think it is absurd that there are thousands of hard-working Patriotic Americans who DO NOT believe exactly what YOU believe!??? Everytime you piggishly stick YOUR particular religious symbol in and on everything while callously disrespecting and ignoring the other THOUSANDS of Americans who love this country and DIE for this country you show how little you care for and understand the concept of FREEDOM for ALL! It is YOU who is acting ABSURDly!
Steve, in my 65 years on earth, the Christian myth was force feed to me. With that in mind, I say a enough is enough. For me this issue isn't about displaying the cross, it's about spending my tax dollars on promoting one religion over another. If you want a cross displayed then be open to displaying other belief systems symbols.
Hey, shouldn't this be in the dis-belief section?
Get a dictionary.
They have a right to "not believe" and we have a right to "believe." I am sooooooo sick of aethists demanding "only their rights." If you don't want to see Christianity, LEAVE !!
FU.. we ain't leaving.. Maybe you should move to Israel and pray to pope jesus.
LMAO! Coming from someone who believes that this country should only afford rights to those who believe in the right religion!
The only group in this country that actually receives "special rights" of any kind, is religion.
why should any one have there believe taken to court. if you do not like the cross look the outher way you are trying to harm millions of people who do think there is a god. as always the courts will rule you way . we the people have no say.
The white anglo-saxon Christian is the one "leaving". They're a dying demographic.
Faye, most atheists do not want the state to endorse atheism. We aren't pushing our views on you. We simply want our shared government not to be used as a tool to promote your religion. Thats all this is about. Nothing more.
"why should any one have there believe taken to court. if you do not like the cross look the outher way you are trying to harm millions of people who do think there is a god. as always the courts will rule you way . we the people have no say."
If I can impress only one thing on people in regard to this situation, it's that this sentiment does not apply only to religious beliefs.
I am part of "we the people", so why are my beliefs not being represented?
And I could just as easily say religious people are trying to "harm" Atheists by insisting the cross be displayed.
Why do some people think these arguments only work in favor of religion and refuse to acknowledge that they work against religion just as well?
@Hit: Mad Bro?
Atheist want to live in a secular nation. They have no problem with others believing in any of humankind's mythologies. However, we don't want our tax dollars spent on promoting any one religion over another. After all, they are all myths.
God Bless all of you Atheists out there....
I will pray for you.
(and there's nothing you can do about it)
Knock yourself out, tough guy. It's your nickel.
I will worry for you, but enjoying wasting your time praying to the terrorist judeo christian god of yours.
"Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.
Kill any friends or family that worship a god that is different than your own.
Kill all the inhabitants of any city where you find people that worship differently than you.
Kill everyone who has religious views that are different than your own.
@Hitchens..... Read anything from the New Testament? The one that applies to Christians? No? Hmmmm.....
Thanks ! I'll take your good thoughts.
As an Atheist I resent your blessing. Second Amendment Norm. Let's keep your God and my tax dollars far far away from each other. And the second amendment is the key to religious freedom. As Americans we are free to worship or not worship and those that choose to worship can do it how ever darn well they please without government interference.
A shame that Hitchens has no education in reading a text and summarizing it properly and honestly.
And I'll think for you.
@ljabarr – why would my right to own a gun provide religious freedom? Do I need to carry it with me so I can defend myself from those who wish to stop me from worshipping?
@beinw – Your Jesus said several times in the NT that the OT rules and laws remain in play until heaven and earth pass away. Is the earth still here?
So why aren't you nutters out there killing gays like god commanded? Why aren't you out there killing all those how choose to worship other gods? Why aren't you nutters stoning all the women who aren't virgins on their wedding nights?
The cross is a religious symbol and should stay as a reminder of why the buildings fell. All religions have a gang mentality to exclude others from them. This fuels weak minds into doing extreme things, in the name of their god/gang(makes them feel good about themselves too). If only people could open their minds and see the evil and separation religions cause. Until people can praise the human race as a whole for its achievements & the odds of our existence in the universe; we will defiantly be seeing more of these tragic events.
No so...not at all.
Christians believe everyone should know God.
This is the problem.
Atheists protest something they know nothing about or have been misinformed.
It's tragic really.
But as long as the rest of us are praying for your salvation, there's still a chance you might come around.
Norm- actually, when tested on the basic tenets of the faiths, atheists scored highers than those of any faith. They DO know what they are talking about and have chosen to reject it.
And that's fine if they reject it Adam...but they also have no right to publicly try to prevent others from having faith.
It's just as bad as someone of faith trying to recruit them.
Norm – NO ONE is trying to prevent YOU from worshiping whatever silliness you desire! What were ARE trying prevent is folks like YOU ramming YOUR particular version of belief down the throats of others by creating GOVERNMENT funded icons for ONLY YOUR BELIEFS! Please wake up and remove your clouded head from your rectum! There are Thousands of hard-working PATRIOTIC Americans who DO NOT follow YOUR particular beliefs! This DOES NOT make them LESS AMERICAN THAN YOU!!!!!!!! Please deal with this with some shred of dignity!...
Norm- no one is attacking anyone's faith.
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.