Should the NYC 9/11 Museum include an i-beam “cross”?

An American atheist group is suing the 9/11 Museum in New York City to stop the inclusion of a steel i-beam “cross” that was found at Ground Zero.

The supposed cross became a rallying point for rescue workers and others shortly after the World Trade Center fell.

A relevant fact: While most of the money for the museum has come from private donations, some apparently has come from government funding.


The group behind the lawsuit, American Atheists, says the addition of the cross to the museum will alienate atheists and cause “mental anguish.” The group is demanding that, at least, a plaque commemorating atheists who died on 9/11 also be included in the exhibit.

Stephen Colbert did a report on the controversy, noting: “Yes, this cross causes ‘mental anguish’ to atheists who would otherwise have a carefree visit to the 9/11 museum.” Colbert’s full take is below.

NEW YORK CITY - JULY 5: National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site as seen on July 5, 2013. This is the principal memorial commemorating the September 11 attacks of 2001. Ritu Manoj Jethani /

NEW YORK CITY – JULY 5: National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site as seen on July 5, 2013. This is the principal memorial commemorating the September 11 attacks of 2001. Ritu Manoj Jethani /

At first blush, I give a bit of an eye-roll over the law suit. Who cares if they want to include some i-beams that were found at the scene, and which did have significance for a lot of people.

A judge last year agreed, ruling that the beams are a part of the history of the Towers on that fateful day.

I get the atheists’ concerns, and in view of all the anti-Muslim feelings that arose after and because of 9/11, I’d be sensitive to any efforts to make the museum a Christian shrine.  But the beams were a big deal for a lot of people, they’re part of the history, and to deny them is to deny the history of the attacks.  It’s almost like suggesting that we shouldn’t mention the motivations of the attackers since that was religious too.

I’m not unsympathetic to the atheist group. I get why people sue when city halls want to put up the Ten Commandments.  We are not officially a Christian country, and you often don’t see those city halls commemorating other religions alongside Christianity (and for atheists, I’m sure that might not be enough).

And I absolutely think that come December, cities should commemorate Christmas and Chanukkah and lots of other holidays, religious and secular – and not just focus on Christmas, and also not just focus on the religious aspects of Christmas (meaning, rather than just going for Jesus in a manger, consider Santa and a tree).

And I get why Jewish parents might not be thrilled with their kid having to sing Christmas carols, and no other carols, during a school show (I’m all for a school show that includes Christmas, Chanukkah and any other holiday songs).

So I’m not someone who just writes off the concerns of atheists, or non-Christians.  But I don’t think the solution is to say “no more holiday pageants in school and no more Christmas trees at city hall.”  I think the solution is to make things more diverse.

As for the cross at the 9/11 museum, I get what’s motivating the atheist group, but I also get the sense they’re being a bit of a kill-joy.  No one found a menorah at Ground Zero.  They did find what they thought was a cross.  And I don’t buy that the separation of church and state means that we have to ignore what was a religious moment on that day for many people.  Should the museum also not mention the death of Father Mychal Judge, which was also a big deal on that day, because Judge was a Catholic priest?

I’m an activist. So I get the need to push people’s buttons, and to push things farther than most people would find comfortable.  But sometimes, I find that some activists, rather than pushing the limits of tolerance, sometimes end up being kind of d*cks.  For me, this is one of those times.

Here’s Stephen Colbert’s take:

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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