ALBANY, N.Y., July 28, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) — When two steel girders were found intact, in the shape of a cross, in the middle of the wreckage of the World Trade Center after 9/11, it was hailed by many as a mini “miracle” and a sign of hope for a country beleaguered by a devastating terrorist attack.
Now, however, an atheist group has filed a lawsuit that seeks to tear down that cross, which was moved recently to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.
American Atheists filed its lawsuit, American Atheists v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in New York state court Monday.
“What we’re looking for is a remedy that honours everyone equally, with a religion-neutral display, or display of equal size and prominence,” said Dave Silverman, the group’s head.
According to the lawsuit, American Atheists’ members “are being subjected to and injured in consequence of having a religious tradition not their own imposed upon them through the power of the state.”
Officials at the 9/11 memorial museum, however, have defended the cross, saying that the mission of the museum is simply to “tell the history of 9/11 through historic artefacts like the World Trade Center cross.”
“This steel remnant became a symbol of spiritual comfort for the thousands of recovery workers who toiled at ground zero, as well as for people around the world,” museum president Joe Daniels said in a statement.
The lawsuit is also being opposed by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Christian public-interest law firm.
“One atheist group’s agenda shouldn’t diminish the sacrifice made by the heroes of 9/11,” said ADF Senior Counsel Byron Babione, who argued that the cross “simply does not amount to a government establishment of religion.”
“The cross is not only known far and wide as a religious symbol, but also as a symbol of death, remembrance, and honor for the dead. Americans have long recognized this. Nothing in the Constitution authorizes atheists to scour the landscape on a mission to seek and destroy memorial crosses.”
In 2005, American Atheists had also filed suit in federal court to tear down roadside crosses honoring fallen Utah highway patrol officers. ADF, which represents the Utah Highway Patrol Association, has appealed that case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In April 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that a veterans’ memorial in the form of a cross in the Mojave Desert of California did not have to be removed. In that ruling, the court wrote, “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm…. The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.”
“Crosses have been used to honor fallen heroes in this country since its founding,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tom Marcelle, based in Albany. “ADF stands ready to defend the World Trade Center Cross in any way that it can, just as we have defended many other cross memorials throughout the country.”