In the latest protest by atheists against what they see as the unconstitutional encroachment of religious doctrine into the secular public sphere, the group American Atheists filed a lawsuit protesting the inclusion of a large cross at the memorial to the attacks on the World Trade Center. The cross, made from two iron girders found in the rubble after 9/11, was moved last weekend to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. As it was moved, a Franciscan monk performed a ceremonial blessing of the cross.
American Atheists expressed their outrage that, in a memorial partially subsidized by tax dollars, a cross should be the only religious object included.
“We honor the dead and respect the families,” they wrote in a statement on their website, “which is why we will not allow the many Christians who died to get preferential representation over the many non-Christians who suffered the same fate. This was an attack against America, not Christianity, and Christianity’s does not deserve special placement just because THEY think the girders look like their religious symbol.”
In the complaint, which names, among others, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the priest who blessed the cross, American Atheists point out that people of many different faiths died in the attacks. According to the lawsuit, the cross was originally blessed by the priest, who ministered to workers clearing the site after the attacks, in response to the workers’ belief that the cross was “a sign that God never abandoned us at Ground Zero.” Naturally, some are asking: whose God are we talking about?
Although the atheists’ “us vs. them” rhetoric leaves something to be desired, their point is fair. If the creators of the 9/11 Memorial truly want to honor the dead, they can’t include only one religious symbol, even if it was recovered from the wreckage. It might require a little creativity to come up with appropriate tributes to the faith traditions (or lack thereof) of the many people who lost their lives in the attacks – but then again, perhaps it would be best simply not to include the cross at all.
Photo from Ross2085 via flickr.