Group Fights WTC Cross: 'Atheists Died Here Too'
New York City's World Trade Center cross, a symbol of hope and grace for many after the 9/11 attacks, was set to be included in the new World Trade Center Museum opening this year.
But a group called American Atheists is suing the museum, saying the cross violates the separation of church and state.
"I lost my friend, Father Judge, the fire chaplain," Father Brian Jordan, a Ground Zero chaplain, said. "I lost 10 other friends. This was a sign of consolation. It was never meant to hurt anyone, the atheists or anything like that."
But atheists insist they were hurt.
In the initial complaint, American Atheists said that plaintiffs were suffering "physical and emotional pain" as a result of the cross, including dyspepsia, depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.
In court, their lawyer, Ken Bronstein of NYC Atheists, said, "The artifact screams Christianity."
He went on to propose a plaque be included in the museum that would read "atheists died here, too."
"What we have here is a definite, consecrated religious object. It is not a historical artifact," Bronstein said.
But a panel of judges questioned the difference between a cross at the 9/11 museum and religious objects in public museums.
"Rescue workers had a horrific experience. [After 9/11] they took some comfort in this object (the cross)," argued Eric Baxter, an attorney with the Beckett Fund, the legal firm representing the 9/11 museum.
Baxter also argued a plaque for atheists might sound nice, but it's not justified.
"The cross is a part of the story of 9/11," he said. "Museums don't censor history. They don't make up history. They tell history as it happened. And the cross is part of history. And the plaque is not."
Last year, the atheists' case was thrown out by a U.S. district judge. But they've since filed an appeal.
The 9/11 museum is slated to open in May.