The 9/11 Cross Controversy

When I first heard about the 9/11 Cross controversy, I admit to sighing rather heavily. As I tend to be more atheist than anti-theist, my initial reaction was that American Atheists' lawsuit was only going to give believers more reason to be angry with atheists. But as I researched the story and gave the matter some thought, I realized that I'm glad American Atheists have prompted me to think about this issue more deeply.

The Backstory

Nearly ten years ago, some first responders who were digging through the rubble at Ground Zero came across a broken section of steel girders which had formed a "t" shape, resembling the Christian cross. They were said to have seen it as a symbol or sign from god, and that the discovery helped give them the power to go on.

The "cross" was later moved to a church, blessed and treated as a religious icon. It's become known as the 9/11 Cross or WTC Cross. Recently, the 9/11 Cross was moved back to Ground Zero to be included as a permanent display in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. American Atheists filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of displaying a religious icon in an government owned memorial, particularly when the display represents only one religion (Christianity).

Christians and Non-Christians

Though the complaint comes from an atheist group, American Atheists has stated that they are mostly upset about the exclusivity of a Christian icon when no other believers or nonbelievers are being represented. They have a valid point in the fact that the nearly 3,000 9/11 victims were from many different faiths, including victims who were nonbelievers.

America was designed to offer religious freedom, yet today some people want the United States to be considered a "Christian nation." When the government introduces Christian symbols and messages into anything they support, it elevates Christianity above other religions. This is not just an affront to nonbelievers, but to all citizens who are not Christian. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 were an attack on America, not an attack on Christianity.

Artifact or Icon

When it comes to the appropriateness of the 9/11 Cross being included into the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a lot depends on how it is displayed. Hopefully, this lawsuit will remind museum officials to consider other faiths and atheists when arranging the display.

As a historic artifact which tells one story of how some first responders reacted to finding this cross-like symbol, the 9/11 Cross becomes part of the narrative and could be an appropriate part of the museum. However, setting it apart in a place of honor or in any way using it as a tribute to the victims and first responders could be offensive to non-Christians.

After the lawsuit was filed, memorial representatives stated that other religious items would be included in the museum as well, such as a Star of David cut from a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, a Bible fused with a piece of steel found during the recovery effort and a Jewish prayer shawl that was donated by the family of a victim.

Media Spin

In response to the lawsuit, Mayor Bloomberg (who is named as a defendant) has tried to remain neutral, pointing out that each side has a right to their feelings. However, his comments--just like the lawsuit itself--can be easily spun to fit the agenda of whoever is doing the reporting.

Fox News titled their report on the mayor's response as "Bloomberg Defends Atheists in 9/11 Cross Spat" while the Christian Post dubbed a similar story, "9/11 Cross Suit: Bloomberg Defends Religious Displays at Memorials."

Holy Wars

Aside from religious tolerance, linking 9/11 victims and first responders to Christianity could promote a dangerous (and erroneous) Islam vs. Christianity mentality. The 9/11 terrorists were attacking America, not Christians. Furthermore, the terrorists were not accurate representative of Islam any more than Timothy McVeigh or Anders Behring Breivik represent Christianity.

The United States was founded on religious freedom. Citizens are equally free to be a member of any religion, or of no religion. When it comes to religion, there should never be an "us vs. them" mentality. That mindset is what leads to Holy Wars and inevitable destruction.

Freedom = Questioning and Thinking

The American Atheists' lawsuit is unlikely to stop the 9/11 Cross from being included in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. However, it does the important job of raising questions which need to be addressed. If we live in a society which promotes religious freedom, we must be aware of how our actions affect others around us.

Personally, I'm glad that American Atheists raise important questions in our society, but, I wish their approach was less strident, angry and blunt. Many Christians are so offended by the lawsuit* that they become defensive and unwilling to consider another point of view.

Being upset by an opposing view is an understandable, knee-jerk reaction. I only hope that American Christians can move past their emotional response and begin to recognize that many citizens hold different--and equally valid--religious views.

*To better understand the oppression of atheists in America, read this article and the accompanying slideshow: Atheists Face Death Threats on Fox Facebook Page; RE: 9/11 Cross. Where is the "Christianity" in threatening violence or death to those with a different point of view? That attitude isn't what Jesus preaches in any Bible I've ever read.


  1. Would they be complaining if it were a Muslim crescent created by the steel girders?