|Atheists Sue Over 'Ground Zero' Cross|
|By RESHMA KIRPALANI||Jul 27, 2011, 10:46 AM|
An atheist group sued today over the inclusion of cross-shaped steel beams, dubbed the "World Trade Center Cross," in the exhibit at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum.
Jane Everhart, who is part of the atheist's suit, derided the cross as nothing more than "ugly piece of wreckage" that "does not represent anything … but horror and death."
Last weekend the 17-foot cross, discovered in the rubble of 9/11, was given a "ceremonial blessing" by the Rev. Brian Jordan, removed from it's temporary post near St. Peter's Church and lowered 70 feet into its permanent home inside the museum.
But a group identified as American Atheists filed a lawsuit today claiming the inclusion of the cross-shaped steel beams promotes Christianity over all other religions on public property and diminishes the civil rights of non-Christians.
"The Christian community found a piece of rubble that looked like an icon and they deified it. But really 9/11 had nothing to do with Christianity," said American Atheists president Dave Silverman. "They want a monopoly and we don't want that to happen."
"It just so happens that the WTC was made out of T-joints and they found a T-joint," Silverman said. "They put it in the church, kept in the church for years, prayed over it, blessed it. You don't get to do that just in the coincidence that your icon looks like a T-joint."
Atheists Sue Over Cross in 9/11 Memorial and Museum
In a statement to ABCNews.com, the memorial foundation identified the cross as a "symbol of spiritual comfort for the thousands of recovery workers who toiled at ground zero," as well as an "authentic physical reminder" that "tell[s] the story of 9/11 in a way nothing else can."
The atheist group said that they have contacted the 9/11 Memorial and Museum requesting to display their own atheistic memorial next to the steel-shaped cross, possibly in the form of an atom or an American flag, to represent the "500 non-religious Americans" who were "among the victims of the 9/11 attack."
The response, they claim, was "dead space."
Silverman also said that, "We have not heard of any other religious groups at all that have been allowed to put something up."
The 9/11 Memorial foundation told ABCNews.com that other religious artifacts will be included in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. A Star of David cut from WTC steel and a Bible fused to a piece of steel that was found during recovery efforts will both be on display in the same historical exhibition as the cross.
A Jewish prayer shawl, donated by a victim's family member, will be part of the museum's memorial exhibition.
The cross was moved into the exhibition earlier than the other artifacts due to its large size, according to the Memorial foundation.
Atheist Calls Ground Zero Cross 'Ugly Piece of Wreckage'
Silverman said that if the 9/11 Memorial foundation allows all other religious memorials of equal size and prominence to be displayed in the museum, the group would "happily, happily, drop the case."
"It's an all or nothing deal. They can remove the cross, or they can let everybody else in. Either way is legal and we would drop the case," Silverman said.
The man who found the cross, Frank Silecchia, said he came across it on the morning of Sept. 13, 2011, after digging three bodies out from the rubble of the collapsed Twin Towers.
"I was overwhelmed with the image of my faith… It brought me to tears and to my knees," said Silecchia, who was working with the New York City Fire Department that day.
Silecchia believes that the World Trade Center cross is "not just a symbol of faith, but also a symbol of our freedom." He also views the cross as a natural artifact from the Ground Zero site.
"When the dust and smoke diminished, that's what was left. It's not something that we created," Silecchia said.
But Jane Everhart the communications director for the New York chapter of American Atheists who said she was traumatized by the events of 9/11, said that she would not be able to visit the Memorial Museum as long as the cross is included in exhibit.
Everhart was due to start jury duty of Sept. 11, 2001, and was in the World Trade Center area on that morning. "I saw people jumping or falling from the Towers, scores of them... I was horrified," she told ABCNews.com.
"The museum should remember everybody who died or suffered, not just the Christians," she said. "America is a melting pot."