The organization American Atheists, advocating for an absolute separation of government and religion, has filed a lawsuit stating that the inclusion of a cross (referred to as the World Trade Center cross) — t-shaped steel girders left standing after the 9/11 attacks which some Christians believe to be a “sign that God never abandoned us at Ground Zero” — and the exclusion of other messages in the 9/11 National Memorial and Museum is “in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of Sections 3 and 11 of the Constitution of the State of New York” and “an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on governmental land.”
David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, commenting specifically for this article, explains that American Atheists has offered to completely fund a respectful, moving, and non-insulting memorial for atheists who had died in the attacks on 9/11 in addition to urging that other perspectives be represented, but organizers of the museum have not responded affirmatively to these requests. The lawsuit states, “In ignoring other faiths’ and non-religious based groups’ attempts to place a similar memorial […], the defendants have denied non-Christian Americans full and equal privileges within the museum.”
Silverman notes that the lawsuit and his position are motivated by fairness, equality, and respecting a separation of church and state instead of highlighting a religious group in a project that is mostly funded by the government. The lawsuit explains, “the inclusion of a cross at the September 11 Memorial and Museum, in the absence of equal acknowledgment of those non-Christians who also were victims of the 9/11 attack, is unconstitutional.” Silverman comments, “People of many faiths and people of no faith died in the September 11 attacks. Organized religion should not have a monopoly on the memorial. All we are asking for is fairness.”
Silverman notes that one of the responses from many detractors, that the cross is meaningful for Christians, is not a good excuse for people to break the law and exclude others. Another response, that American Atheists should basically “shut their pieholes” (to quote a Christian caller from a recent radio show in which Silverman participated) and simply ignore the cross is not an argument. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, also responds to Silverman. Donohue alleges that Silverman “believes in nothing,” “is angry that there is nothing that represents nothing at the World Trade Center’s 9/11 Memorial” and that “Silverman blames Jesus for 9/11.” Silverman, responding to Donohue, states that Donohue misses the point, misrepresents, and does not address the arguments in the lawsuit.
Steven Detweiler and Gwen Stewart, members of the local NEPA Freethought Society, commented specifically for this article. Detweiler believes that the government should not be using tax dollars to highlight Christianity and notes that the favoritism of Christianity is unfair. Stewart also believes that the government should not be using tax dollars to fund a religious message. Stewart explains, “the government should not fund or promote any non-secular message. A private group or citizen is fine to promote a religious message, but the government should not.”