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Atheists See World Trade Center Cross as Battle Over Equal Rights

As of Monday, August 13, 2012, the attorneys representing The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation (WTCMF) said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that the 20-foot-tall beam will be displayed as a historical object because it tells part of the story of the rescue and recovery effort after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to news reports, the judge in this case is poised to throw the case out. 

American Atheists filed suit against the WTCMF last year. The complaint stated, “Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to require those responsible for the September 11 Memorial and Museum to remove a 20-foot cross from the Memorial and Museum or to provide equal space to memorials from other beliefs. That either the cross be removed from the museum, or symbols representing all religious and nonreligious groups be displayed alongside the cross.” Both options were rejected.


Islamic militants attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. That attack included the destruction of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, New York City, where 2,792 individuals lost their lives.

Two days after the attack, construction workers found a steel girder joint approximately 10 feet across and 20 feet high and weighing 10 tons amid the rubble. By October 2001, Franciscan (Catholic) Friar, Brian Jordan ‘blessed’ this piece of building debris and began holding religious services at the site.

Eventually, the girder set was removed to St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on 22 Barclay Street in Manhattan. While there, the girder set was further modified and trimmed to look more like the Latin cross of Christian tradition.

In 2002, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was established, with a $10 billion grant from the U.S. government, to rebuild downtown Manhattan. Soon thereafter, the WTCMF was established to begin designing a permanent memorial for those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

At about that same time, various groups began lobbying the WTCMF to include the girder set in the final design of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. American Atheists spoke out against that suggestion, making numerous appeals and appearances to civic and governmental groups, as well as on national media denouncing the suggestion as a blatant violation of the First Amendment and exclusionary to non-Christian Americans. American Atheists also offered to provide its own memorial artifact to be displayed next to the girder set to honor all other people who died in the 9/11 attacks. American Atheists never received any response to its complaints or its offer of an additional memorial artifact.

David Silverman, American Atheists President, said, “What we seek is any remedy that honors everyone equally, be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, or atheist. This can either be done with a totally neutral memorial that concentrates on the tragedy and not religion, or one that allows everyone to put up a display of equal size and prominence. In the latter case, we have offered to pay for a display ourselves. If everyone is provided equal treatment, we will drop our lawsuit because fair is fair.”

The WTCMF completed the construction of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in July 2011. On July 23, 2011, the WTCMF arranged to have the girder set transported from St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and lowered in through the roof of the museum. The cross was placed on a special mounting designed to highlight the girder set as the museum’s centerpiece. In a private religious ceremony, Friar Brian Jordan consecrated the girder set. No other religious or secular representatives were invited to the event.

Shortly after the girder set was placed in the WTCMF, reports began to emerge calling the girder set a ‘miracle cross’. Some Ground Zero workers claim that, as they worked inside the debris, they found a girder cross-section that resembled a Christian cross. One of the rescue workers said, “It was an unmistakable cross made of twisted metal placed there at Ground Zero as if it had been intentionally planted.” This story spread like wildfire, eventually spawning a movie entitled, “The Cross and the Towers”. Producer Scott Perkins said, “It was like a cavern that became a place of worship for the weary and for those working rescue and recovery heroes at Ground Zero. It was as if God was holding out his hand and saying, ‘I am with you, I am here, come find peace in me.’ It was God’s house, a place for anyone to come and be ministered to.”

Kenneth Bronstein, New York City Atheists President, said, “The so-called miracle cross that now dominates Ground Zero discriminates against all the Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, and others who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The cross is not a miracle. It is just a couple of rusty girders, one of hundreds just like it that were found after the Twin Towers fell. After all, the Twin Towers were built with thousands of such T-shaped girders. That a worker resurrected one of these girders and dubbed it a Christian cross is an affront to all of us who believe in our constitutionally based right to have public places free of religious propaganda and religious coercion.”

Mr. Silverman said,  “The one thing we won’t tolerate is Christianity getting special treatment not afforded to us or anyone else. Christians can love and rally around whatever they wish, and if they wish to deify a piece of rubble, that’s up to them, but that doesn’t mean they get sole representation in the WTC memorial.”

The cross is scheduled to be displayed in the museum as the singular representation of all people groups who lost their lives on 9/11. Teresa MacBain, American Atheists Public Relations Director and Former Pastor, said, “We cannot allow this travesty to occur in our country. This is an injustice that affects thousands of people. We will stand. We will fight. We will not back down. The memories of all those who perished is worth the price, no matter how high.”


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