It was the towering charred steel beam shaped like a Christian cross that became a symbol of solace and hope after it was found jutting out of the smouldering debris of the World Trade Centre.
But the so-called Ground Zero Cross is now at the centre of a church-state row as a leading American atheists’ group sues over its inclusion as centrepiece in the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
“The overwhelming impression of this cross is religious,” Edwin Kagin, the national legal director for American Atheists, told a New York federal appeals court.
“We are worried about the alienation being suffered by atheists. This cross screams Christianity, but there were perhaps 500 or 1,000 people who died in this tragedy who were not Christians.
“It’s dangerous for this to be in a government-backed display. This is about an endorsement of Christianity. What is wrong with having a plaque that says ’atheists died here, too’?”
American Atheists is demanding that if the 17-foot high cross is not removed as a religious symbol from the state-owned property, the display should be altered to add an atheist monument of similar proportions.
Point- Did not know Atheists have a Monument to their non belief. Could the resident Atheists help a former dirt poor Dumb Down Homer (DDH for those newer members out)? Pulease.
“But there is a difference between displaying an artifact of historical significance and saying we want you [the public] to bless it — museum goers understand that distinction.”
Reena Raggi, a member of the three-judge panel that will deliver its ruling, appeared sceptical of the claims by the atheist group. “There are countless cases of museums including religious artefacts among their exhibits and it’s going to be described in a way that talks about the history of the object, what is the problem here?” she said.
“An argument has been made that you are trying to censor history.”
Eric Baxter, the senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, described the American Atheists’ argument as “absurd”.
“We are not injured, but enriched, by remembering history as it actually happened, religion and all,” he said.