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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. Nancy

    Atheists, Schmatheists. Why don't you all try reading the Bible. What are you afraid of? God is real. If everyone tried doing GOOD things in His name, we'd be in a much better place.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Hitchens

      Atheists know more about your disgusting bible than most christians.

      Exodus 22-20
      "Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.
      http://bible.cc/exodus/22-20.htm
      Deuteronomy 13:6-10
      Kill any friends or family that worship a god that is different than your own.
      Deuteronomy 13:12-16
      Kill all the inhabitants of any city where you find people that worship differently than you.
      Deuteronomy 17:2-7
      Kill everyone who has religious views that are different than your own.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      Oh boy... is it a troll? not a troll? *sigh*

      Most atheists come from religious backgrounds. I've read the bible through many times. I spent 18 years in a baptists church (3x a week) and 13 years in the christian school. My family are devout christians. I've memorized much of the bible over the years.

      Sorry for the ultra-condensed version but I've had to repeat this so many times, I find the energy required to post it is severely lacking.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • sam

      The problem is, the bible was read, and re-read, and questions were asked, and...uh oh.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Been there, done that, it actually led to my atheism. When you read the bible and notice that you need to do some massive mental gymnastics to reconcile what happens in there with a "good, loving, god", deconversion tends to happen.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Athy

      Most of us have read the bible – that's why we are atheists now.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Nancy,

      The problem is not so much that Atheists haven't read the bible. It's that, based on the answers you've gotten so far, reading comprehension seems to be a rare commodity among many.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • sam

      @Mr N – that was the best you could do? Really?

      September 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Mr. N

      The best you could come up with is "They don't got the secret decoder brain that I got"?

      September 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Reading the bible is like reading Harry Potter all fiction.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Well, since the best thing that anyone here are disjointed quotes devoid of context, I stand by my statement. I'm sure I can train a monkey to pull a sentence or two out of a book, but that doesn't make him comprehend the whole of it.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Specific examples?

      September 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  2. John

    This is the way I see it, and btw I live in NYC and my office overlooks the WTC site and so I remember when that hunk of metal (the cross) was put up. I believe that the cross should stay in the museums exhibit because nobody demanded that it be taken down after it was put up, I think it was rather silly that the cross was erected in the first place and as a catholic in this particular instance I believe that it's erection was almost pagan in nature because in the aftermath of 911 religious fanaticism was what caused the event (911) to happen in the first place. What is particularly galling is that the media chose to enhance this and other images (the carrying out of father judd from the rubble eerily resemples michaelangelos pieta etc.) and that foolish people fell for it, the creation of an IDOL is anethema to the christian faith in particular even if it looks like a christian symbol.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • sam

      You have a good point.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  3. Brett

    I am an atheist, and I disagree with the atheists on this one.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Daryl

      Same here. This means nothing to me. These people make other atheists look bad.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Scott

      No...you make atheists look bad... All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing

      September 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  4. Trollalert

    Wash DC - Atheists are vehemently protesting that every member of the government is not outraged that earlier today two popcicle sticks thrown in the garbage happened to form "somewhat of a cross" in one of the garbage cans in a national park (the name of the park is being withheld due to fears it will become a holy site).

    Prof. Ded Fromtheneckup, Senior Analyst of "People Who Believe In God Are Stupid" (PWBIGAS) was quoted earlier today: "Any member of government who does not shriek with horror at the top of their lungs when being told of this should be murdered!!!!!!!!" (He specifically requested that 8 explanation points be used at the end of the sentence to reflect how loud he screamed).

    September 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  5. Gorsh

    I just hate how Christians are always pushing their beliefs on others. That is why I go on CNN for hours a day attacking and insulting them, while pushing my opinion on everyone I can.... Wait, what?

    September 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Trollalert

      My vote for best post of the day!

      September 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Mary

      And how are atheists having a live and let live policy? They are pushing their anti-beliefs on everyone. Could atheists not walk by that exhibit and say, "wow, that cross means something to someone, just not to me." If atheists want people to respect their right to have no God, why don't they respect other peoples' right to believe, without deriding them? We should only display something that is pertinent to the museum exhibit and the cross is pertinent–meaningful to many–even if not to an atheist personally. If there are other artifacts recovered at ground zero that have religious meaning (non-Christian), they should also be displayed in the museum. What would an atheist symbol look like anyway? A black hole for science?:D

      September 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • janey33

      Mary...a sane posting in a sea of godless attacks.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  6. Derek

    Jezz, no wonder people don't like athiest. To have the gumption to attack something so humbling and so heart breaking is pathetic. It isn't just the symbol of christianity; it is the symbol and a memorial in itself to those whose innocent lives were tragically ended. It deserves to be in the museum, period.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      It deserves to be in the museum because of it's tie to the actual event. If it was crafted afterward and specifically as a christian icon, then I'd say you're wrong.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Zeus ex Machina

      Let me break it down for you. Religion destroys the towers and murders thousands. As a human who does not believe in religion, I am deeply offended they are allowed to put their symbol on the memorial. Reasonable, law abiding humans did not cause 911. Brainwashed sheep too docile to question their faith did.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  7. Jesse

    I believe In God. Atheists have the right to their opinions but don't try to deny others their rights!

    September 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Hitchens

      Issue here is separation of a hate symbol aka the cross being placed in a museum funded by tax dollars.

      "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 6:56 pm |
    • Zeus ex Machina

      Stop messing with science. Stop obstructing the natural progression of the human race with your garbage dogma.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • janey33

      Hitchens...The cross is a symbol of Jesus' triumph over death. Period. It is the center of Chrisianity that we have new life in Jesus. Tell me how that can be a symbot of hate??? Jesus teaches us love, tolerance, and forgiveness. You could learn a lot from Him.
      You know how to cut and paste very well. Now try some other computer skills. By the way, James Maddison was a Christian who believed in freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM relilgion.

      Issue here is separation of a hate symbol aka the cross being placed in a museum funded by tax dollars.

      "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 7:30 pm |
    • Tina

      It will be so nice if people respect each other, work together for the same cause,and tolerate each other. Before we were called atheists, christian,jewish or whatever other belief; we were known as simple human beings. same specie. What is happening to us is not for our beliefs; it's because our ignorance. We have forgotten whom we really are. That's nobody else fault. I believe in God but that will ever make me a better human being. It's how I treat my own specie.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  8. Zeus ex Machina

    Who here as ever watched one of those creepy shows on Christard TV? You know, the ones where brainless sheep yell out "Oh thank you lord," and dance around in apoplectic mannerisms? Funny stuff but sad at the same time.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  9. nathandf

    Gotta love the comment that removing the structure is about 'inclusion'. Are you kidding me? Any wonder atheists are cannot get anything done. Using an argument like that in court would (should) get any lawyer thrown out.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Stan Marsh

      So ur ok with a jewish symbol, a muslim symbol and all the other symbols of all the other religions there as well? All or none is the inclusion anything else exclusion.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  10. Zeus ex Machina

    Christards: If heaven is the ultimate paradise, 911 couldn't have gone better!! Instead of suffering here on earth, all the victims are now in the clouds just hanging out. Except for the non Christards. They of course are being horrifically tortured in hell because they either picked the wrong horse or no horse at all.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  11. sockpuppet1984

    it's ridiculous actions like these that will perpetuate the anti-atheist sentiments in this country. I would like to see an example of a museum that does NOT include religious artifacts.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  12. DeoDorant

    Honestly, many people of religious faith, christians, hindus, buddhists, moslems even, died in the terrible attack. As an atheist I must say, let's honor their memory. The memorial is more than a museum, a display. It is also a place of rememberance. Place a cross, place a buddha, place other symbols. Make this a place of peace and not of renewed religious / non-religious fervor.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • JayPea

      As a matter of history, there is no relic or symbol of 9/11 that should be excluded because of any religious associations. Bear in mind that Jesus was also a historical figure who was crucified under Roman law. The historical figure preached a message that should be represented beyond the theology and canon of Christianity. To treat each other well and love each other. I don't believe that offends the sensibilities of many religious viewpoints, including atheists. It is as much a symbol for unity as a peace sign or an olive branch if you can remove anti-sentiment and just move on to more important things to fight.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  13. Atheist hater

    Atheists are FOOLS....Let me guess a big bamg created us...what created the universe then? Fukktards...

    September 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Zeus ex Machina

      I agree! Let's organize a book burning.

      September 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Hitchens

      Who created your terrorist judeo christian god then? and how do you know its the terrrorist judeo christian god who created the universe, why not the native american god tabaldek? Do you agree Tabaldek created the Universe?

      we can prove bible is full of shat.. genesis states moon has its own light. lol.. god created plants before the sun.. lol.. nonsense..

      September 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I don't know who created the universe, just like you don't. My question to you is Where was G-od on 911? If the man doesn't show up then, when will he show up?

      September 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Ken Margo,

      Your question is a non-sequitur. It does not follow that if God exists, must "appear" for any given reason.

      Hitchens,

      To most, the definition of God is that of an ever-existing being. I know that's not the answer you're looking for, but in the context of a "God" concept, your question is trivial.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • sam

      C'mon, you can troll harder than this. This is middle school level trolling, at best.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @ Mr N. If I told you Yankee stadium existed and took you there that would be proof. If I told you pigs fly would you believe me or ask for proof?

      September 11, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Religion is referred to as "beliefs" because it is what you believe. If it was true it would be referred to as "fact" Since you have a choice to believe it or not, I choose not to. If you "believe G-od exists" prove it. If G-od is so great, why should I take your word at it?

      September 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Ken Margo,

      You define belief as having no proof, and then ask for proof. In a very tortured way, you've answered your own question. Funny how you wrestle with such basic concepts.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @Mr N. Is this the best reply you could do? For a guy who thinks pretty high of himself you sure say a lot of B.S. Think about all the praying that goes on in the world, yet things are sill screwed up. No matter how much praying you do nothing will change. Sorry you're wasting your time on your knees. While you're down there, why don't you do yourself a favor and do the priest before he does you.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      Ken Margo,

      Who brought up praying? You're really all over the place on this one? You claimed that God had to show up on 9/11 if he existed, and I pointed out that is fallacious reasoning, regardless of whether you seek to prove or disprove God's existance. Really, it's not that hard to understand. Try it!

      September 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @Mr. N I guess this is down to you and I. You're still taking B.S. Praying is a BIG part of religion. If you don't pray you're just like me. Admit it. It kills you that more and more people are becoming atheists. Thankfully religion will go the way of the unicorn and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The best part is that "conservative christians" are the ones leading to it's demise. People are starting to figure out religion for what it is A SHAM.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      What's killing me? What is there to admit? Prayers are requests, not orders, to God. If you fail to comprehend that, then you're up for disappointment, but that's no one's fault but your own.

      The problem here is that you are the one who believe in unicorns, not the people that are religious. You paint this caricature, this straw man of what faith is according to Kenny, not what it is according to God. The reality is that God gave us free will, and as such, consequences, and strife. By definition, a universe that holds the promise of true freedom and justice must be at the same time be a bit messy and a bit unjust. To reduce something like prayer to the caricature that you believe it is, is to reduce humanity to a Pavlovian experiment, devoid of true freedom and true self determination, and hence faith. Faith cannot exist if you don't have the freedom to believe whatever you want, and you can't have the freedom to believe whatever you want in a universe with strict justice rules and a universe in which God is obvious.

      These concepts are quite a bit for anyone to chew through, so that's your homework: This childish caricature of religion (and more importantly, faith) that you hold, is very limiting in more ways than one. But in a nutshell, a world on which injustice exist no more negates the existence of a God than it confirms it. There is no easy rule that I can point to you for belief, but you are mistaken if you think that there is an easy rule that you can point me that makes the opposite case.

      September 11, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I'm glad I'm at work. I have time to respond to your intellectual B.S. Despite all the fancy words you're still full of it. Look, you're not going to convince me and I'm not going to convince you and frankly I don't want you to abandon your religion. If it works for you, good for you. That is what freedom is all about. Why I feel the way I feel about religion? Simple. From what I see from Christians. Pro-lifers against reasonable gun control and health care. The catholic church covering up for pedophile priests. Preachers having kids out of wedlock. The list is endless. It's hard for me worship something or someone when things like this happen. It loses a lot of it's credibility.

      September 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Mr. N.

      You're cute, Kenny. Intellectual BS, hu? Who's the close-minded one here? How's the one adhering to dogma?

      Well, at least you've gone from just barely stopping short of calling me a blilthering, brain-washed idiot because of my faith, to saying that if it works for me, it's cool. I'll take that.

      Have a nice, productive day at work.

      September 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  14. Andrea Perr

    The argument that the "plurality of victims were Christian" is ridiculous. Does that mean the other victims and their families don't matter? The problem with the cross is that it is divisive and discriminatory. It is not some sign from god; it is a remnant of a piece of the building construction. It was created by design - the architects. I'm sure there were many such cross beams. The shape of 2 intersecting lines, one shorter than the other are found everywhere. They prove nothing. What if something had fallen in the shape of the star of david (just for an example)? That would be something to consider because it didn't happen that way by design.

    It is hurtful to take a random piece of a building to symbolize an attack on all of us, including Jews, Islam, Buddhists, and yes, non-theists.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • bluegillonthefly

      You're the divisive and exclusionist one here, Andrea. Including a cross excludes no one, nor does it divide anyone. If you're not a Christian, just move on past the display. There's no sign out there that says "You can't come in here if you're not a Christian." Muslims died in the WTC, too. If a prayer rug survived and was found in the wreckage, I'd welcome its inclusion in the museum. Ditto for a yamulkah, or anything else like that. People of many faiths were killed on 9/11.

      Not sure what we'd do for the atheists. Empty display case, maybe?

      September 11, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  15. Creationism is Smart!!

    Here's a pragmatic idea: Let's all pray!!

    September 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  16. Creationism is Smart!!

    Believing in fairy tales is a true sign of intelligence.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  17. Creationism is Smart!!

    All the evidence pointing to evolution is fake. Talking snakes exist, deal with it.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  18. Toothless Truther

    The New Atheists masterminded Sept 11 to fuel their war on religion in hopes it would be eradicated Simply enumerating on the past evils done in the name of religion were not enough. Some more horrific act on American soil was needed.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • sam

      There's a sale on aluminum foil – you might want to make a slightly bigger hat with it than you have already.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  19. Creationism is Smart!!

    Humans and dinosaurs lived together peacefully. The Ice Age never took place. Neanderthal? Cro Magnon? Those were made up by evil liberals.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Scott

      I see the trolls have arrived...

      September 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      I LOVE SARCASTIC HUMOR!

      September 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • sam

      Jesus had a pet velociraptor. He rode around on it. He called it Goddamnit because it kept chewing his sandals.

      September 11, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  20. Mark

    What’s more likely, that a steel cross beam in a building that likely had thousands, survived in the ruble of 9-11 by chance, or that it’s a sign from the christian deity who allowed almost 3,000 people to die in that event. Would you erect a monument to a man who could have saved those people, but did nothing? If you truly believe the crazy stories associated with christianity, it seems to me, you are worshipping a monster. Another point, at least 250 million children died of small pox in the 20th century alone. The christian deity, who according to christians, could have prevented those children from suffer horrific torturous deaths, was no where to be found.

    September 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
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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.