The organization American Atheists is protesting a proposal to use a large steel cross found in the rubble of the World Trade Center in a memorial to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Describing itself as a “nationwide movement which defends the civil rights of nonbelievers,” the group said in a statement yesterday that use of the cross in a government-funded monument “would violate the separation of church and state, be insensitive to those victims who had no religious beliefs and would incredibly pay homage to religion – the prime motivating factor in the faith-based attack of Sept. 11.”
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is the local agency in charge of planning for the rebuilding of the site.
Ed Malloy, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council and a board member of the agency, has asked that the cross be made a permanent part of any future memorial.
According to the New York Daily News, construction workers, firefighters, police officers and family members have held weekly Sunday services at the site of the cross since Sept. 11.
“We’re hoping it will stay right where it is and become part of any permanent memorial,” Malloy was quoted as saying in the Daily News.
Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists objects to the possibility that the cross might be used in a taxpayer-supported project.
“This is an inappropriate use of taxpayer money,” she said in the statement, “You can’t take government funds to promote religion, especially sectarian religion in the form of a cross or any other religious symbol.”
Johnson added that any memorial to the victims of the attacks “should bring Americans together, not divide them on the basis or religion or anything else.”
Ron Barrier, national spokesman for the group, stressed that Muslims, Hindus and other non-Christians were killed in the attacks as well.
The WTC cross on the cover of the December issue of Whistleblower magazine.
“What about them? he asked. “Are we going to turn the site of the WTC into a religious shrine with competing religious slogans, symbols and displays? Any monument to the victims, and those who helped in the aftermath of Sept. 11 should be tasteful, as well as a unifying statement about America and humanity.
“Christian symbols are as inappropriate as a Muslim crescent or some other religious label,” Barrier said.
Construction worker Frank Silecchia happened upon the perfectly symmetrical cross in the midst of the WTC wreckage just a few days after the attacks. It was standing straight, 20-feet high, surrounded by many smaller crosses.
“When I first saw it, it took my heart,” Silecchia said. “It helped me heal the burden of my despair, and gave me closure on the whole catastrophe.”
Said WorldNetDaily columnist Ann Coulter in an October column: “The cross at Ground Zero was not simply the cross beams remaining from an existing building. It was formed out of beams from Building One plunging, splitting and crashing into Building Six.”
“There’s no symmetry to anything down there,” an FBI chaplain said at the time, “except those crosses.”
Johnson said that her group would go to court if necessary to challenge the use of government money for the placement of any religious symbol at the WTC site.
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