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“We are angry . . . .”
This was the reaction of the president of American Atheists last week upon learning that his organization’s lawsuit to tear down the Ground Zero Cross and remove it from the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum had been thrown out by a federal judge.
The news came just as these atheists were holding their annual convention over Easter weekend.
The two intersecting steel beams in the shape of a cross was discovered among the wreckage from the devastating terrorists attacks of 9/11. The Ground Zero Cross, as it came to be known, brought hope and solace to many of the first responders in the days following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and it became a symbol of healing for a nation deeply wounded by the attacks.
The decision was made to move the cross, along with hundreds of other 9/11 artifacts, to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
That is when these self-described “grumpy atheists” filed a lawsuit attempting to make their hurt feelings a federal case.
The lawsuit filed in federal court actually claimed that the mere “existence of the cross” is causing them “depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.”
There is nothing about the existence of the cross, for one, or its inclusion in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum that violates the Constitution.
And now a federal judge has agreed. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts ruled, “The museum’s purpose is to tell the history surrounding September 11, and the cross . . . helps tell part of that history.”
The fact is the cross exists, and despite the horrid cause of its origin, it has become a symbol of hope and healing to millions. Some atheist groups may be opposed to the very existence of the cross. They may not like the fact that is represents a source of solace for millions. And they certainly are free to be disappointed that it will be in a museum. But they don’t get to re-write history.
Despite American Atheist’s insistence that the “existence” of this cross somehow establishes a state-imposed religion, the trial court plainly and, we believe, correctly held that “no reasonable observer would view the artifact is endorsing Christianity.” In dismissing the flawed lawsuit, the court made it clear that the cross did not violate the Constitution.
That’s fine. We’ll be there ready to file briefs on behalf of the thousands upon thousands of people who have signed our petition to defend the Ground Zero Cross.
American Atheists may have embraced their “we are the bad guys” mentality, but they certainly don’t speak for all of Americans. They don’t even speak for all atheists. We have heard from numerous atheists who are outraged themselves at the hurtful tactics displayed by some of these groups.
The bottom line is that religion, and especially Christianity, is a part of our society, it’s a part of our culture, and it’s part of America’s history. And no unending legal assault by secularists can change that fact.
There is nothing about the existence of the cross, for one, or its inclusion in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum that violates the Constitution. First, legally, the two steel beams in the shape of a cross are a historic artifact of 9/11, not a man-made religious symbol, despite any religious significance it took on. Second, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Constitution’s “goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.”
The heroes of 9/11 and the families of the fallen to whom this cross – this symbol of hope – has meant so much deserve to have this artifact from the wreckage of 9/11 displayed in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. They have gone through so much hurt and pain; they do not need to be dragged through a tenuous court battle. The cross should remain.