Atheists Offended by Cross-Shaped Artifact from 9/11

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Atheists offended by a cross-shaped artifact seek to “protect” people from the full story of 9/11.

Atheists continue their court battle to expunge a poignant reminder of the tragedy. Why? Because that symbol—a T-shaped piece of steel found among the amorphous mass of debris shortly after the disaster—historically reminded rescue workers at the site that our God, Jesus Christ, cares. The battle to keep the Ground Zero Cross in the 9/11 Memorial rages significantly onward.

WTC cross

Discovered by firefighters two days after the devastating destruction of the Twin Towers, this cross-shaped piece of debris entered our national history as many exhausted rescue workers flocked to it as a symbol of comfort. Image from atheists.org.

Every artifact has a history, a story that makes it significant. Historically, this 10-ton cross-shaped piece of debris was discovered by Frank Silecchia on September 13, 2001, shortly after recovering three bodies. According to reports at the time, the find had a dramatic effect on many workers wading in the carnage of the Twin Towers. Ten days later, the New York Post’s Ron Dreher reported, “As word of the find has spread at ground zero, exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed rescue workers have been flocking to the site to pray and meditate. ‘People have a very emotional reaction when they see it,’ says the Rev. Carl Bassett, an FBI chaplain. ‘They are amazed to see something like that in all the disarray. There’s no symmetry to anything down there, except those crosses.’”1

On October 5, 2001, a ceremony was held acknowledging the role of the 17-foot-tall steel cross in keeping hope alive for the bedraggled and burdened rescuers. State quarters representing the home states of some of the rescuers were welded to the base. A bagpipe peeled out “Amazing Grace.” And Catholic Friar Brian Jordan bestowed a ceremonial blessing on the site. The “Cross” was eventually transported to a street corner near St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan.2

Recognizing the artifact’s historical significance, the Memorial’s designers brought the “Cross” home to Ground Zero.

Recognizing the artifact’s historical significance, the Memorial’s designers brought the “Cross” home to Ground Zero. The Memorial Foundation’s president, Joe Daniels, says the Ground Zero Cross is a powerful part of the 9/11 story “because it provided comfort to so many people—it is a part of the history of the space.” The American Atheists are seeking to prohibit inclusion of the Ground Zero Cross in the Memorial, contending its presence violates the Bill of Rights “establishment clause” prohibiting the government from making laws establishing a state religion.

CNN’s legal analyst Jeff Toobin points out, “I think the odds of a court ordering the cross removed are literally zero. The museum is not building a place for religious worship, they are preserving a historical relic that was meaningful to a great many people and part of the story of 9/11. When the government is surveying a historic development, the government does not have to exclude religions images and artifacts from its displays.”

The Memorial is not government funded. Furthermore, there is legal precedent declaring that even government-funded museums may display religious materials because they are not only a part of history but also because the displaying a religious symbol does not constitute establishing a religion or even believing it.3

Not all atheists support this lawsuit. Many consider it “frivolous.”4 Atheist Susan Jacoby of the Washington Post acknowledges the suit “misconstrues the First Amendment.”5 The outcome of the court battle will have profound implications for all public museums.

So, as Ken Ham recently asked in a video discussing the Bill Nye ruckus, why do the atheists care? After all, despite American Atheist president David Silverman’s contention that those who support inclusion of the Ground Zero Cross are deifying a piece of rubble,6 the Ground Zero Cross is not being displayed as an object of worship. The Ground Zero Cross is offensive to atheists because it is a reminder of history’s greatest miracle.

The greatest miracle is that the Creator of the universe—a holy and omnipotent God against whom all humanity has rebelled—seeks fellowship with his rebellious creatures (us) and has made a way for us to truly know Him and to understand His great love by entering our history. Jesus Christ lived in our sin-cursed world as a sinless man and died in our place to bear the guilt of our rebellion, our sin, so that we humans could be restored to a right relationship with God.

This cross-shaped piece of debris reminded rescuers at Ground Zero and still reminds people today that our Savior has not abandoned us despite our rebellion.

This cross-shaped piece of debris reminded rescuers at Ground Zero and still reminds people today that our Savior has not abandoned us despite our rebellion. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Nature reveals our Creator (Romans 1:18–25). No one can ban those phenomena—their testimony is available to all—so secularists use their interpretations of historical science to try to explain all things without God. In this case, however, they wish to use the courts to banish this visual reminder of God’s truth.

Many people in the world hate the cross because it is a reminder that they, like all of us, are guilty sinners—rebels against our Creator. At least for now, we can be thankful that the majority of people in this country still recognize that this nation historically has Christian roots. That makes the recognition and significance accorded to the cross-shaped girders part of history too, the history of that unforgettable day, 9/11/2001.

In the wake of 9/11, many people asked questions about divine justice: how a loving God could allow such death and suffering. As a C.S. Lewis character Ransom comments in his science fiction classic Perelandra, “God can make good use of all that happens. But the loss is real.”7 Understanding the Bible’s answer to this question can help those who suffer—which eventually includes most of us—and those who are appointed to someday die—which includes all of us until Christ returns. Read more about this in Were They “Worse Sinners”? which includes the link to download a free resource to share in times of suffering.

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Footnotes

  1. Rod Dreher, “Holy Symbols of Hope Amid Rubble,” The New York Post, September 23, 2001, http://www.nypost.com/p/news/item_Iygp1LxwHFH1BZ70YFOepO.
  2. Information obtained from “Amicus Curiae Brief of the American Center for Law and Justice and the Committee to Protect the Ground Zero Cross in Support of Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment” filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the matter of American Atheists, Inc. et al v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, et al.
  3. Information obtained from “Amicus Curiae Brief of the American Center for Law and Justice and the Committee to Protect the Ground Zero Cross in Support of Defendants’ Motions for Summary Judgment” filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the matter of American Atheists, Inc. et al v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, et al.
  4. A. Kumar, “Atheists’ Lawsuit to Remove Ground Zero Cross Backfires,” August 8, 2011, http://www.christianpost.com/news/atheists-lawsuit-to-remove-ground-zero-cross-backfires-53526
  5. Ibid.
  6. “Stand Up for Your Rights,” American Atheists, http://atheists.org/update—-world-trade-center-cross-fight-equal-rights
  7. From chapter 11 of C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Macmillan, 1944), p. 152.

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