Sunday, September 18, 2011

Atheists Will Just Have To Bear With WTC Cross (August 4, 2011)

Two intersecting steel beams that fused together — and became known as the World Trade Center cross — due to the intense heat that also caused the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, were recently moved to a permanent home at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum in the middle of ground zero.
Before it was moved, an invitation-only service, led by the Franciscan monk who ministered to workers clearing the area after the devastation, was held for the ceremonial blessing of the cross, which was discovered in the debris from the collapsed buildings. The cross remained in place for more than a year, as workers removed rubble from the area, before it was temporarily relocated to a lower Manhattan church.
Though it remains a distinctive symbol to some, the cross has become the focus of a dispute to others. No sooner was it back at the WTC site last week than the American Atheists, a group that advocates unequivocal separation of church and state, expressed its objections to placing “a religious symbol” at the site and promptly sued.
According to the complaint filed in state court, the presence of the cross “in a government-financed museum violates the country’s constitution by promoting Christianity, without mention of other religions” and imposes “a religious tradition…through the power of the state.” The nonbelievers apparently ignore the key detail that a non-profit, non-government-affiliated group operates the memorial and museum.
Memorial president Joe Daniels recently said the artifact is relevant because it helped “tell the history of 9/11…and became a symbol of spiritual comfort for the thousands of recovery workers, as well as for people around the world.”
I’m not particularly devout, and, more often than not, concur with atheist issues, but this time they’re misguided because the cross does not endorse any religion. The cross-shaped steel girders should be part of the permanent memorial, not because of what it means to the faithful, but because it is a unique component that survived one of the most dreadful events this nation has ever endured. And, unless one believes in divine intervention, it was probably just a fluke that the beams fused. Whether one is awed by the coincidence of its existence or by the fact that it was a symbol that helped some overcome their despair, the WTC cross is undeniably a piece of history to be exhibited.
A World Trade Center Memorial Foundation spokesman recently said that other religious objects would also be on display, including a Jewish prayer shawl donated by a victim’s family and a Star of David made from recovered ground zero steel.
For months after the attacks, Rev. Brian Jordan celebrated Sunday mass for workers and their families in front of the steel cross. When it had to be removed so work could continue, the Franciscan monk, in fact, lobbied to include the cross in the planned permanent memorial. To those who worked amid the rubble almost a decade ago and saw it every day, the cross has special meaning. But, to Rev. Jordan it carries an even greater weight because it was found not far from where his mentor, Rev. Mychal Judge, the New York City Fire Department’s chaplain, died while helping others at the site.
Though I strongly disagree with the atheists on this matter, they certainly have the right to protest — as much as those who want the state’s law against gay marriage overturned and those who object to the lower Manhattan Muslim mosque — and sue. Let the courts decide if these atheists have a valid argument. Their record in previous complaints is decidedly mixed — they lost their opposition against the inclusion of the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, but, years earlier, won their suit to ban prayer in public schools. So, regardless of any lower court ruling about the cross, the case just might go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Nonetheless, whenever ceremonies are conducted at the 9/11 Memorial they should be secular or cross denominational, not Christian-oriented. To merely perform the latter would dishonor the scores of non- Christian victims who died that tragic day.
Whether or not the fused steel beams are viewed as a religious symbol and or as an icon of the incredible rescue and recovery efforts after the terrorist attacks, on the whole it represents the resilient spirit that helped many Americans cope with a sad chapter in our lives.
The cross is part of one of the most tragic events in this nation has ever suffered. Whether one is impressed by the coincidence of its endurance or the fact that it became of symbol of hope for so many, what is not debatable is that it has become a significant piece of our history.
That is an indisputable detail that no legal decision will ever change.