A federal judge heard arguments Thursday regarding the fate of the “Miracle Cross” and its inclusion in the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum.
Edwin Kagin, attorney for American Atheists, argued before the judge that the cross was a religious symbol and had no place on government owned land. The museum is to be opened on land owned by the The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The cross is a 17-foot-tall structure of crossed beams that was found in the rubble of the World Trade Center following the 2001 terrorist attacks. It quickly became a symbol of comfort for the rescue workers who were looking for survivors in the days after the attack.
Supporters of the cross, including Eric Baxter of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, say the cross is a part of history and should be included in the museum.
“Museums don’t censor history, they don’t make up history,” Baxter was quoted as saying in a CBS New York story. "They tell history as it happened and the cross is part of the history and the plaque is not."
American Atheists have argued that if the cross is allowed a plaque should also be on display in the museum saying something to the effect of “atheists died here, too.”
“We’re arguing for equal treatment in some way, whatever that might be,” Kagin said.
Judge Reena Raggi has not yet written an opinion but signaled that she may come down on the side of those who would like to see the cross included.
“There are countless cases of museums including religious artifacts 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.”
Frank Silecchia was the construction worker who discovered the crossed beams in the wreckage that day. He has said in the past that the structure comforted him.
“I was already working 12 hours,” Silecchia said. “I was quite weary and the cross comforted me. I never stood here before any media and said it’s about religion. But I say it’s about faith — the faith that was crushed on 9/11.”
The museum is scheduled to open in May. It is unclear whether Raggi will issue a ruling by the time the museum opens.