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May 04 2013

Equality is an all-or-nothing concept

Dave Silverman has a piece explaining about the World Trade Center “cross” at the Washington Post on faith blog. You probably already know it was just one of many steel crossbeams in the rubble, arbitrarily chosen as a Sign From God. (Gee thanks. Kind of as if I torched a school after locking all the doors and then left a little note on pink flowery paper afterwards saying “cheer up!”)

The decorated crossbeam was seized by Father Brian Jordan, a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest, and a religious relic was invented. During the next 10 years, the 17-foot cross was moved, repaired, mounted and copied. Religious services were held in front of it at St. Paul’s Chapel. Worshippers further modified it, carving “JESUS” on the top and etching prayers on the side. The cross was labeled unique, a sign from the Christian god, not merely a crossbeam plucked from the rubble of a terrorist attack.

You can’t get much more religious than that, one would think.

The cross was installed in the World Trade Center (WTC) Memorial in a religious ceremony in 2011 led by Father Jordan. He then consecrated the public land on which the memorial is built, and the cross was lowered in. That same year, American Atheists sued for the removal of the cross as a religious symbol or for the WTC board to approve an atheist memorial alongside to remember the nonbelievers who died on 9/11.

On March 29, 2013, Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the cross is a secular “artifact,” not an unconstitutional religious symbol.

Secular. Religious services were held in front of it at a chapel. “JESUS” is carved on top. Prayers are etched on the side. Yet it’s secular. Insult us, why don’t you?!

(By the way March 29 was a Friday, and the first full day of the AA 2013 convention. Dave made an unscheduled appearance between talks to announce the decision. He was pissed. I know this because he said so [and because you could tell].)

Shortly after installing the cross, the WTC board okayed the inclusion of a small Star of David in the memorial as well. This object is not an artifact from the WTC site at all, but was approved for inclusion because some Jews protested being represented by a Christian symbol.

If the board members are going to install a Christian memorial, they should not say it’s not Christian. Rather, they should admit it’s religious, just as clearly as the Star of David is. In compliance with federal law, they should include equal representation for the atheists who died in the religious attacks on 9/11.

American Atheists has offered, on multiple occasions, to pay for an atheist memorial, to allow the WTC board to approve a design, and even to simply dedicate an existing exhibit to the nonreligious victims but the board turned American Atheists down on every request. Our group has been called un-American and insensitive for making the requests. Apparently, American Atheists is somehow unpatriotic for demanding equal treatment in a memorial dedicated to those we lost in a religiously-inspired terrorist attack.

That seems grossly unfair to me.

Equality is an all-or-nothing concept. We all have equal rights, and America’s atheists are not being treated equally at the WTC Memorial. If the WTC board members insist on bringing in religious symbols, they must include symbols for everyone who wishes to be included. They can keep the cross,  but atheists will not be ignored just because some people at the WTC Memorial are prejudiced against nonbelievers. Atheists will have an equal place, or it all must go. That’s fair, that’s legal, that’s religious neutrality—that’s the American way.

I’ve seen a lot of people objecting to the cross suit, but I think many of them must not know about this part. AA didn’t say get it out, AA said we would like a memorial too, which we will pay for – and got turned down. That’s not right.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Great American Satan

    This kind of thing makes me wish I had money to support an outfit like AA.
    Rock on, incredulous be-memed one.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    It would have been more of a sign from god if the airplanes had stopped suddenly (with the laws of physics suspended temporarily so the passengers were unhurt) by a great big hand, and gently put down in a bed of roses in Central Park. Now that would have been a miracle.

    I think the atheists were probably not the right people to lead the charge on this one. Were any buddhists or muslims killed in the attacks? (Other than the ones who sought martyrdom) Yes, it’s unequal to atheists but there isn’t really an “atheist memorial” other than that there be no religious memorials, which is kind of mutually exclusive. Of course since religious zealots immediately fall to pissing all over eachother’s memorials and sacred places, it’s a moot point. I wish atheists could stay above that particular fray, on the sidelines, perhaps jeering a bit.

  3. 3
    Marcus Ranum

    Perhaps the ‘A’ on a brass plaque? A circular brass plaque.

  4. 4
    quixote

    There were Muslims among the people who died in those buildings. So I guess now they’ll also establish a Muslim memorial? Right?

  5. 5
    John Morales

    I’ve seen a lot of people objecting to the cross suit, but I think many of them must not know about this part. AA didn’t say get it out, AA said we would like a memorial too, which we will pay for – and got turned down. That’s not right.

    Then it seems AA also didn’t “get it out”; i.e. the efficacy of their public relations has been less than ideal.

  6. 6
    Robert B.

    I’ve seen a lot of people objecting to the cross suit, but I think many of them must not know about this part. AA didn’t say get it out, AA said we would like a memorial too, which we will pay for – and got turned down. That’s not right.

    I was in fact dubious about that suit, but you’re right, I didn’t know that part. That is indeed not right. Mind changed.

  7. 7
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    I’ve seen a lot of people objecting to the cross suit, but I think many of them must not know about this part. AA didn’t say get it out, AA said we would like a memorial too, which we will pay for – and got turned down. That’s not right.

    Actually, what I didn’t know about was the etchings, nor the extent of the services. All of the news reports I read made it sound like some random Christians poured some personal significance onto it and then it got… sort of… commandeered for use as a historical artifact from the site.

    But the details in this post change everything. Now I understand how and why I was wrong. American Atheists were right, and I hope they finally get movement on this.

    And I’m sorry for being so wrong-headed about it. I did not have the full information.

  8. 8
    Sili

    Hmm.

    If it’s a secular memorial, we can mock it without hurting any religious sensibilities, can’t we?

  9. 9
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Secular. Religious services were held in front of it at a chapel. “JESUS” is carved on top. Prayers are etched on the side. Yet it’s secular. Insult us, why don’t you?!

    They just did – and will keep on doing so. But then I’m sure y’all know that very well already, right?

  10. 10
    John-Henry Beck

    Would AA have been limited in how much they could directly talk about it and all the details because they were engaged in the lawsuit? As I understand it, quite often courts limit what parties can discuss about cases. Which means details not getting out is back to a problem with the media.

  11. 11
    Jeff D

    Would AA have been limited in how much they could directly talk about it and all the details because they were engaged in the lawsuit?

    Unless the court enters a specific order that limits what the parties to a civil lawsiut can say about the case to the public or to the media, the parties can say what they want. The rules of professional conduct, which vary a little from state to state, can limit or even prohibit statements by the lawyers for the parties while the case is pending. Finally, the P R / marketing flacks and media consultants for the parties can exert considerable influence over what the litigants say and don’t say when tthey are not battling in court.

    The judge’s ruling in this case is another consequence — I hesitate to say an unitended consequence — of the notion of “innocuous ceremonial deism,” which was dreamt up by some Supreme Court justices decades ago, as a way of preventing courts from finding that the Establishment Clause is violated by such things as “In God We Trust” on U. S. money or bland, non-sectarian prayer to open legislative sessions. These days, it seems to me that the two most common dodges used by the federal courts to uphold blatantly religious or sectarian actions (sponsored or subsidized by the government) are (1) the notion that “ceremonial deism is fine and doesn’t materially injury anyone and (2) the notion that the plaintiffs in a particular case cannot show a particularized injury and therefore lack standing to sue.

    IMHO, it’s not going to get better, and the federal courts are not going to treat these cases differently, until overeaching. religiously-motiviated public policy stances of pious legislators are consistently punished at election time by significant numbers of voters who don’t heisate to tell opinion pollsters why they voted the way they did. And here in the Midwest, that is just beginning to happen, at barely noticeable levels, among millennials who are “Nones.”

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    I love having JeffD around.

  13. 13
    garydargan

    What about a memorial for the 300 or so Muslims who were killed? I am sure adding a crescent moon to the star of David will get the usual loons to join the atheists and admit that the cross is a Christian symbol.

  14. 14
    LykeX

    If it’s not a religious symbol, but simply a “secular artifact”, then why was it mounted upright? There’s no reason whatsoever to do that, unless you mean to invoke the symbolism of the Christian cross.

    I propose a compromise: They can keep it, but we turn it upside down. If it’s really a secular monument, it should make no difference.

  15. 15
    deepak shetty

    hasn’t the Supreme Court decided that the cross IS a secular symbol so lawsuits like the above are futile?

  1. 16
    A Cross Is A Religious Symbol | Canadian Atheist

    [...] h/t: Ophelia Benson [...]

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