Atheist Group: Remove Cross-Shaped Beam from 9/11 Museum

The American Atheists claim that many of its members have been injured by seeing the cross either in person or on television, and by having a religious tradition not their own imposed on them.

“It’s difficult to follow their logic. At times they have claimed that the Ground Zero Cross is a symbol of Christian dominance and an establishment of religion that violates the Constitution and must be removed. Other times they have acknowledged the Cross’s cultural and historical significance, but argued that Atheists deserve equal representation—some kind of symbol of equal size and stature that could be displayed next to the Cross,” Baxter told the IRD.

 

Atheists are continuing to challenge the display of a 17-foot, cross-shaped beam in a national memorial museum that is set to open this spring.

Rescue workers found the beam two days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Frank Silecchia was a construction worker at the burning wreckage of the World Trade Center towers. He discovered the beam while clearing the burning debris.

“I was already working 12 hours, I was quite weary and the cross comforted me “he told the Today Show.

American Atheists lawyer Edwin Kagan has argued before the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the cross should not be displayed in a museum built with a mix of public and private funds, but should go back to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where it spent  some time on display.

The Telegraph Newspaper quotes the museums lawyer, Marc Alcott, as saying some rescue workers did take comfort in the cross as a religious object.

“But there is a difference between displaying an artifact of historical significance and saying we want you [the public] to bless it — museum-goers understand that distinction” he added.

Religion News Service reports a lawsuit filed by American Atheists last year was rejected by a lower court. The atheist organization had argued the cross was an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy spoke with Eric Baxter, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund has filed an amicus brief supporting the museum’s right to display religious objects in the exhibit. The Becket Fund states the American Atheists’ have no right to file any lawsuit.

“It’s difficult to follow their logic. At times they have claimed that the Ground Zero Cross is a symbol of Christian dominance and an establishment of religion that violates the Constitution and must be removed. Other times they have acknowledged the Cross’s cultural and historical significance, but argued that Atheists deserve equal representation—some kind of symbol of equal size and stature that could be displayed next to the Cross,” Baxter told the IRD.

Baxter states the Cross is being shown in a historical display. He says there are already many religious and secular artifacts included.  He says a memorial plaque for atheists would not be a historical artifact and would be “completely out of place.”

Baxter also told the IRD the cross will be displayed in a section of the museum titled “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero, which seeks to portray ways in which rescue workers and family and friends of the victims of 9/11 dealt with the enormous tragedy of the event.

Baxter states “Museums don’t censor history, and they don’t make it up. They display it as it happened. The Ground Zero Cross is a part of history.”

The American Atheists claim that many of its members have been injured by seeing the cross either in person or on television, and by having a religious tradition not their own imposed on them. The Becket Fund responded by stating “personal offense, without more, is not an injury sufficient to justify a lawsuit. If everyone could sue over anything in a public museum or on public property that offended their personal beliefs, our museums would soon be empty and our monuments eliminated. The court should have dismissed this case from the beginning for lack of any significant injury.”

The Becket Fund also told the IRD that religion is inherent in public life. Attorneys at the Becket Fund say Americans are largely a religious people, so it is only natural that religion will be part of the history and culture.  The Becket Fund says the Establishment Clause does not prohibit religion, but does prohibit the government from stopping the prohibition of religious expression. The Becket Fund states the Dalai Lama opened proceedings in the United States Senate with a prayer. The Becket Fund also says the government-sponsored Holocaust Museum includes Jewish religious artifacts.

A decision from the Court of Appeals is expected to take several months.

This article appeared on the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s blog and is used with permission.

×

Give The Aquila Report to 100 friends for only $5. / 10 days left in the 2014 matching funds campaign. Donate now!