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.