Of Course the 9/11 Cross Is a Religious Symbol

September 11 was an American tragedy, not an opportunity for preachers to capitalize on catastrophe.

On September 11, 2001, religious terrorists murdered almost 3,000 people including Christians, atheists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and many others from different faiths.

In New York City, the Twin Towers were constructed with steel crossbeams, and after the towers fell, thousands of the beams were seen in the rubble. One Christian rescue worker selected a crossbeam and attached religious symbolism to it. He suggested that this specific crossbeam was not scrap metal like all the others, but was a sign from heaven, “a promise from God that he is with us even in the face of terrible evil and untold suffering.”

The decorated crossbeam was seized by Father Brian Jordan, a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest, and a religious relic was invented. During the next 10 years, the 17-foot cross was moved, repaired, mounted, and copied. Religious services were held in front of it at St. Paul’s Chapel. Worshippers further modified it, carving “JESUS” on the top and etching prayers on the side. The cross was labeled unique, a sign from the Christian god, not merely a crossbeam plucked from the rubble of a terrorist attack. Then the cross became profitable – purchasable through church gift shops and web sites.

The cross was installed in the World Trade Center (WTC) Memorial in a religious ceremony in 2011 led by Father Jordan. He then consecrated the public land on which the memorial is built, and the cross was lowered in. That same year, American Atheists sued for the removal of the cross as a religious symbol or for the WTC board to approve an atheist memorial alongside to remember the nonbelievers who died on 9/11.

Absent its religious meaning, the cross is scrap metal like all the other crossbeams in the wreckage.

On March 29, 2013, Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the cross is a secular “artifact,” not an unconstitutional religious symbol. The cross is an artifact, yes, but only because it is a religious symbol. In fact, the very reason the cross has any meaning to anyone is because it is a religious symbol. Absent its religious meaning, the cross is scrap metal like all the other crossbeams in the wreckage. This undeniable fact makes the cross a religious — and only a religious — item.

Because the cross is undeniably Christian, its inclusion in the taxpayer-subsidized WTC Memorial is an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity. The First Amendment, our most fundamental statement of rights, is clear that our government shall not show preference to one religion over any other belief system; it must remain neutral. Violating this most basic principle is not only against the law, it’s un-American. The WTC Memorial must be a welcoming place for people of all religions — or preference no religion — and we do no service toward that end by allowing a huge Christian symbol to cast its shadow over the whole of the memorial.

The WTC board justified its inclusion of the cross by maintaining that it is a secular “artifact,” but the board’s actions concede the point. The board endorsed a religious ceremony to celebrate the cross’ induction into the memorial. None of the other hundreds of artifacts received this religious treatment, of course, because they are truly secular artifacts of a tragedy. During the religious ceremony, Father Jordan stated that the cross represented “all people of faith” — an obvious effort to create a Christian monopoly in the memorial by lumping all religions under the cross. It didn’t work. Shortly after installing the cross, the WTC board okayed the inclusion of a small Star of David in the memorial as well. This object is not an artifact from the WTC site at all, but was approved for inclusion because some Jews protested being represented by a Christian symbol.

If the board members are going to install a Christian memorial, they should not say it’s not Christian. Rather, they should admit it’s religious, just as clearly as the Star of David is. In compliance with federal law, they should include equal representation for the atheists who died in the religious attacks on 9/11.

Apparently, American Atheists is somehow unpatriotic for demanding equal treatment in a memorial dedicated to those we lost in a religiously-inspired terrorist attack.

American Atheists has offered, on multiple occasions, to pay for an atheist memorial, to allow the WTC board to approve a design, and even to simply dedicate an existing exhibit to the nonreligious victims, but the board turned American Atheists down on every request. Our group has been called un-American and insensitive for making the requests. Apparently, American Atheists is somehow unpatriotic for demanding equal treatment in a memorial dedicated to those we lost in a religiously-inspired terrorist attack.

Equality is an all-or-nothing concept. We all have equal rights, and America’s atheists are not being treated equally at the WTC Memorial. If the WTC board members insist on bringing in religious symbols, they must include symbols for everyone who wishes to be included. They can keep the cross, but atheists will not be ignored just because some people at the WTC Memorial are prejudiced against nonbelievers. Atheists will have an equal place, or it all must go. That’s fair, that’s legal, that’s religious neutrality — that’s the American way.

9/11 was an American tragedy, not an opportunity for preachers to capitalize on catastrophe. The WTC board’s attempt to justify inequality by insisting that a 17-foot cross in the memorial is “secular” and would not be seen as a religious statement is an insult to the intelligence of every American. Of course the cross is religious. Of course it’s illegal to place it on public land that uses taxpayer money. Of course this is a blatant attempt to Christianize 9/11.

Of course American Atheists has appealed.

United we stand.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

David Silverman
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  • OldUncleTom

    I don’t know what the Atheists are complaining about. Right next to the cross at the WTC memorial, there is nothing, which commemorates what Atheists believe in. They are represented. They can even pretend that their nothing is bigger than the Iron Cross of the Christians.

  • Rongoklunk

    The irony is that 9/11 was a religious act – the greatest religious act I ever witnessed. Allah was so delighted He threw in 72 virgins for each brave martyr who gave up their lives for him. What a guy! 72 virgins. Being religious and believing all kinds of improbable things about reality, they were easy to persuade. Religion had turned them into suckers. And that’s why faith is a pathetic concept. Those terrorists had it in spades.And where did it get them? They expected to go to Paradise but got no further than the WTC, where their dust still blows in the wind. That’s where faith will get you. Nowhere.

  • xexon

    There is a method to the madness.

    Things like zionism, neocons, and the New World Order all have two things in common. The first is they all depend on the US Christian community for support. The second is they all program the US Christian community to do their bidding. And the US Christian community is clueless about it.

    Pro Israel. (Chosen People) Anti Islamic. Because they’re somehow threatening the chosen people. And finally, “most” Christians are patriotic types and they vote. So if you want something done, you harness that voting power. But you have to program them first.

    Sticking a cross up at the 9/11 site where those terrible Muslims murdered 3000 people sends what kind of message?

    That Israel needs our support. That the war on terror needs financing because there’s a radical Islamist behind every tree threatening us with sharia law. And that Israel needs our support. Jesus says so.

    When you examine the foreign policy of the United States in the Middle East, you get the impression they’ve been quite successful.

    x

  • oldnurse

    When I heard about the 72 virgins nonsense I imagined all those despoiled virgins marching along the main streets of paradise to God demanding justice. I can imagine some of the slogans on their banners and signs, but I suspect they’d be nixed by the software that detects inappropriate content.

  • Counterww

    Silverman is a crybaby. Wahhhhh!

  • wonderfool

    Of Course the cross is a Christian symbol. But in stead of banning it, we need to install symbols for all religions of people who died in 9/11. That will most likely include a Cross, a David’s Star, a moslem Crescent, a Hindu OM, a buddhists Swastic (yes, the jews nee to get over it; Swastc is a holy symbol for Billions of Hindus and Buddhists and Jains and Sikhs and ….). The atheists should get over it. They need to become more tolerant (I am an atheist) otherwise we would have become as rigid and intolerant as many of te religious faiths. Or can us, atheist create our own symbol?

  • dcrswm

    Well, how does one symbolize reason? It’s an abstract concept.

  • dcrswm

    Since it’s so ridiculous to believe in things based on evidence why, exactly should we believe in your rapey sky wizard?

  • dcrswm

    People complain an awful lot about Atheists, what exactly is it that is so terrible? We type objections to your religion, ask question your faith can’t answer and ask that you provide evidence to support your wild claims. Need we be reminded how YOUR religions treated dissidents when it had absolute power? Can you recall the last time Atheists burned a christian at the stake for witchcraft? How many christians have been drowned by atheists for heresy? How many have been tortured until they renounce their faith in the name of Atheism? Any?

  • dwynn

    Atheists seems now wanting government control over religions in the U.S. you all dislike people who believes in Jesus Christ and claim the cross offensive you so it need taken down. Your request for the removal of the cross is offensive to me. So why is what you want more important than us who finds salvation in the cross and your lack of darkness?

  • tianxiang69

    We need to install symbols for all religions of people who died in 9/11? Why? What has their religion got to do with anything? The only religion that is relevant to the discussion and remembrance of 9/11 is Islam, since it was in the name of that religion the attacks were committed. How that is discussed, whether honestly or in the more PC though inaccurate way claiming it was just a bastardization of the religion, is a matter for debate. But whether someone was Christian or Hindu or Jew or atheist has nothing to do with 9/11 and has no place at the memorial. People are free to go and pray to whatever god they want while they are there, but to be honest, the more you bring religious symbols into it, the more it begs the question of Islam’s role which might prove rather uncomfortable for many Muslims and their apologists.

  • tianxiang69

    As an atheist, I can say that I do not dislike people who believe in Jesus Christ simply because of that belief. The reason the atheist group is asking for the removal is not because they are offended by it, but rather because the constitution is fairly explicit in removing government sponsorship of any particular religion. Whether or not something is offensive is irrelevant, since many of us present symbols that others find offensive all of the time. Freedom of belief does not mean freedom from offense or freedom from criticism. As an atheist, I can tell you what I want is not necessarily more important than those of you who find “salvation in the cross”, but I can say that what I want does not infringe on your ability to believe and practice your set of beliefs and merely wants to ensure that the constitution, which is what we all have in common, is followed. Would you feel as supportive of the symbol if it were a hunk of steel in the shape of a crescent that the government helped pay to restore and install for Muslims to worship at the memorial? Lots of Muslims died that day also, and not just the ones in the planes. How would you feel, as a Christian, if your faith became a “minority” and some other religion’s symbols were put up at memorials using your tax money?

  • randol67

    The exact words of the first Amendment referring to religion are “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” The Bill of Rights were ratified effective Dec. 15, 1791. The cross at the WTC is not establishing a religion. Christianity was established over 2000 years ago.

  • Purple Shell

    The atheists only want the cross removed if all other religions and atheist are not also represented. I am a strong believer in God and Jesus is my best friend, but in this case, the atheists are correct. The memorial then needs to put in symbols for Hindi, Buddhist and all other religions & atheists, as people from those religions and non believers were lost in 9/11. God has no religion. Religion is a human concept. We are all God’s children. This country was not founded as a Christian nation. It was founded so people could worship or not worship as they choose. If a metal beam from the destruction is needed for the display, find another. God does not interfere in our lives. God gave us free will. The beam in the shape of a cross is not a sign. It has been made into something it is not. It is merely rubble from the horror of 9/11.

  • Joel Hardman

    This is a typical pattern for atheist challenges to government sponsorship of religion: the controversy is reported in such a way as to make atheist opposition appear outrageous and silly, but the facts reveal atheist opposition to be perfectly reasonable.

    A few facts I found particularly interesting in this article are:

    - The religious ceremony to consecrate the “cross”.

    - The inclusion of a Star of David to appease the Jewish community.

    - American Atheist’s offer to pay for a memorial to non-believers alongside the memorial to Christian victims.

    How anyone can claim that this cross isn’t primarily a religious symbol is beyond me. Doing so illustrates one of the problems with mixing religion and government in America – it often requires the religious to water down their religious principles (or pretend to) for broad appeal.

    Religious folks, is that what you want? To pretend the cross isn’t religious so that it can be placed on government property? If you ask me, that’s a bigger insult to the ideals of Jesus than anything American Atheists has done.

  • Joel Hardman

    I think many of the strong reactions to atheists come from a few sources:

    - The in-group nature of religion. Religion is a way for people to identify with a group, which necessarily creates an out-group. Even people of other religions are part of the in-group of the religious. Atheists, on the other hand, are as much on the outside of religious groups as possible. Some religious people react to atheist criticism as an attack on their group, which provides a large part of their identity. That kind of attack elicits a much more charged response than a challenge to an intellectual or ethical precept, which is what atheist critiques superficially appear to be.

    - Atheist challenges call into question ideas which our society large deems beyond question. For some reason many people view critiques of religious ideas as uncivil.

  • Joel Hardman

    People are welcome to erect religious memorials to whoever they want at their places of worship or on other private land. Why do we need to do that on government property? A secular monument that doesn’t reference religion at all seems fine to me.

    Besides, as Mr. Silverman pointed out, the WTC board rejected your approach by rejecting plans for a memorial for non-believers paid for by American Atheists.

  • Joel Hardman

    OldUncleTom,

    So the cross at the WTC memorial symbolizes Christian beliefs then? I guess the game of pretending it’s not a religious symbol is over then, right?

  • YogSodoth

    I see. And is our request for an atheist memorial for the atheists who died in 9/11 also offensive to you?
    If so, your offense means nothing to me, because you think your religion should be privileged, and my lack thereof has no merit.

  • YogSodoth

    What an intelligent response. I can see you were on the debate team, am I right?

  • YogSodoth

    And yet you have a problem with an atheist memorial. Hm, project much?

  • persiflage

    ‘On March 29, 2013, Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the cross is a secular “artifact,” not an unconstitutional religious symbol.’

    An unfortunate moment in American history when perceived public sentiment trumped an accurate, unbiased reading of the law by a member of the judiciary. The judge apparently thought she saw some wiggle room here, and took the easy way out – knowing it would go to a higher court.

    You might as well have installed a huge monolith in Times Square with the 10 commandments inscribed for all to see.

  • persiflage

    ‘Your request for the removal of the cross is offensive to me.’

    Proving unequivically that it’s a fundamental religious symbol for all Christians. The religious bias in the USA can be seen at every level of government……a curious atavism for the 21st century – the supposed age of science and techology.

  • es35

    It sounds like the Supreme Court Justices have greater allegiances to their Church than to the Constitution, which they were sworn to uphold.

  • persiflage

    ‘……. where those terrible Muslims murdered 3000 people…….’

    Well, they were indeed religious psychopaths of the Islamic persuasion………I’m not sure the moment should be commemorated in any way whatsoever – and particularly by using any kind of universal religious symbol. Re-building on that spot might not be a half-bad idea.

    Whether Israel needs help with Iran in the future remains to be seen, but I commend Obama for proceeding with caution in Syria. It’s obvious that North Korea has ill intentions, and they’re a nation of devout atheists. Enemies come in all kinds colors and ideologies.

    When Muslims the world over appear to be thirsting for the implementation of Sharlia Law, there’s every reason to be doubtful with regard to the future of democracy in Muslim nations.

    We keep making the same mistake over and over again with regard to pushing the idea of secular democracy on countries that have no use fot it. All in all, a monumental waste of time.

  • persiflage

    ‘Right next to the cross at the WTC memorial, there is nothing, which commemorates what Atheists believe in’

    my uncle Tom would never have said anything half as stupid………but he’s dead and gone.

  • SimonNorwich

    Is there no limit to the stupidity of religionists?

    They think their god was able to ensure that, after the whole massive building collapsed and 3000 bodies lay amongst the rubble, a section of the building would remain standing in the shape of a cross in order to show that this god was looking after them. Wow, what a great job he did!

    If he’s that clever, why didn’t he stop the whole thing happening in the first place?

  • halucigenia

    randol67, you wrote:

    “The cross at the WTC is not establishing a religion. Christianity was established over 2000 years ago. ”

    Do you not understand the meaning of the word establishment pertaining to the constitution?

  • leibowde84

    Yeah, this is ridiculous. The government is not allowed to endorse any religion (or group of religions) obove any other. The question is never whether the cross would “offend” people, but whether it gives the appearance of the government endorsing Christianity. This is as unconstitutional as it gets.

  • leibowde84

    this is ridiculous. The government is not allowed to endorse any religion (or group of religions) obove any other. The question is never whether the cross would “offend” people, but whether it gives the appearance of the government endorsing Christianity. This is as unconstitutional as it gets.

  • leibowde84

    Atheists could easily claim that the religious believe in nothing, as they believe in the supernatural, which, by all scientific analysis, doesn’t exist. Reality, the center of atheistic beliefs, however, does.

  • c. mora

    I apologize for my MEDDLING IN A MATTER OF YOUR COUNTRY . I AM BRAZILIAN AND I AM ATHEIST . I CAN UNDERSTAND HOW A FACTS LIKE THIS HAPPEN IN MY COUNTRY , WHICH IS MOSTLY CATHOLIC PEOPLE AND ALSO VERY IGNORANT . BUT HAPPEN IN A COUNTRY WHERE DEMOCRACY IS WORTHY OF RESPECT IN THE WORLD , AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS ARE RESPECTED , REALLY is unfortunate .

  • MarcusA1971

    A building made of steel girders collapses and in the rubble are found 2 girders arranged in a cross configuration. Wouldn’t it have been more of a miracle if such a phenomenon was not found? If a star of David or crescent moon and star was found it would have been pretty amazing, but a cross?
    I personally think that the “9/11 Cross” makes a fine monument. Not to the victims and survivors of that terrible day of course, but to the seemingly bottomless depths of christian stupidity.

  • A_C

    Religion = Delusion. This is but one more in the endless examples of low wit trolls negatively affecting society with their delusions. Would that religion would fade away like the stone age superstitious drivel it is. Unfortunately as long as child abuse is allowed, indoctrinating defenseless young children into supernatural insanity, we will be plagued with this buffoonery.