Atheists Vow Lawsuit If Princeton Erects 9/11 Memorial Featuring Christian Cross On WTC Beam

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A New Jersey atheist organization said it might sue the town of Princeton, N.J., if plans go ahead to erect a 9/11 memorial containing a Christian cross.

In March of last year, the town’s Deputy Fire Chief Roy James obtained a steel beam from one of the destroyed World Trade Center buildings. Cut into the beam is a the prominent shape of a cross. The firefighter wants to use the beam as the centerpiece of a local 9/11 memorial, which he originally wanted to put up on the same ground as the Princeton Battlefield Monument, a Revolutionary War memorial.

But the state of New Jersey, which owns that site, already nixed the idea. Now James, who is Jewish himself, would like to put the beam (pictured) on town-owned land near the site of a former borough hall.

The plans have raised the ire of American Atheists, a group that fired off a letter to Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert earlier this week. The atheists say that while they support a 9/11 memorial, displaying the symbol of one particular religion on public land goes against the First Amendment’s ban on government respecting an establishment of religion.

The group’s lawyer, Bruce Afran, also said displaying the symbol of a single religion in a public 9/11 memorial is inappropriate and could cause further psychological harm to people who are not Christians who lost loved ones in the attack.

“It is a simple but undeniable fact that vast numbers of the dead of 9/11 were not Christians and were members of many other faiths or were atheists or had no faith,” Afran wrote. “Such a symbol cannot be but offensive and alienating to many of the families and friends of these many dead.”

Afran said the atheists do not oppose the cross-bearing beam as part of a 9/11 memorial, but if “other religious and nonreligious groups, including American Atheists’ own memorial plaque” are not included on equal footing, the group will take the town to court looking for an injunction to stop the memorial.

SOURCES: Planet Princeton, The Times of Trenton, New Jersey Newsroom