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.

stephen-colbert-cross-911-museum

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 / Shutterstock.com

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 / Shutterstock.com

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 | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • coleman cooper

    I probably was having a bad day, and to be honest, I regret writing that kind of extreme opinion really. Sometimes my passion over an issue takes over my reason and common sense, and to be frank, I have no good excuse for voicing such an opinion – it does make me look unreasonable. My bad.

  • coleman cooper

    troll? and what is it that you are doing any different than myself – voicing our opinions, all be them different, make us stronger. Diversity across the board is always going to exist – out nation will always be Christian, and secular, and agnostic, and Wiccan etc. PS Climate always changes.

  • coleman cooper

    it sure is. I am proud of my faith and belief, as you are of yours, whatever that is.

  • ehmkec

    Actually the ‘plus’ sign shape is pretty prevalent in nature. But I don’t genuflect every time I see an equation. There is a world full of diverse ideas and people. The christians look foolish when they try to make any issue all about them.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I kind of agree but they gotta look like something, right? Should they just be depicted a pair of amorphous blobs? Or perhaps robed figures with big smiley faces for heads?

  • http://greenleegazette.com/ James L. Greenlee

    That whore? Virgin Mary, sure. I mean what a Renaissance artist THOUGHT Mary looked like. I’ve often wondered why all of these random appearances of Mary & Jesus just look like a woman in a shawl and a bearded hippie. How do they know what either of them looked like?

  • http://greenleegazette.com/ James L. Greenlee

    My feeling exactly. Christians see crosses (and Jesus and Mary) in potatoes, Cheetos and shower mold. But, to find this “cross” in a collapsed building isn’t even remotely remarkable. I’m more impressed by the grilled Cheesus.

    I agree that the message conveyed by this cross–if it was divinely placed there–is a bit muddled. The answer to that one is easy though: It means Jesus! To the people inspired by things like this, there is no more message necessary. And we just stand there and scratch our heads.

  • waguy

    Imagine the outcry if atheists demanded that a huge A-shaped hunk of metal was displayed instead of a cross-shaped piece. Christians have been trying to co-opt this tragedy, just like they co-opted the winter solstice and spring celebrations. Does anyone recall the first hymn at the national 9/11 memorial service? “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Holy wars forever!

  • LanceThruster

    If the atheists can’t get the religious icon removed from the public space, maybe the Vampire Lobby can.

  • Bomer

    “why not start with taking In God we trust off of our currency”
    I’m all for that.

  • emjayay

    Two years after “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, coincidentally. Both also coincidentally during the McCarthyism anti Soviet Communism hysteria period. And both of which should go.

  • emjayay

    You are missing the fact that our Constitution was written totally based on Christian principles and the word of God in the Bible, even though the first Congress with a lot of founding fathers in it passed a bill that explicitly stated that it wasn’t.

  • emjayay

    Hmmmm, kind of reminds me of other issues in the news recently that are covered a lot here.

  • orogeny

    What, exactly is the significance of this piece of metal? One has to assume that the structure of the WTC included thousands of such connections. Does the fact that this particular piece of the building was visible indicate that the Christian god blessed what happened at the WTC? What does displaying this actually commemorate?

  • AutAut

    I’ll get lost but troll is a mis-guess on your part. It seems you’re the one bringing up the priest’s sexuality – what the hell did that have to do with the article? Write an idiotic comment – get an idiotic response!

  • olandp

    That is true, just like men lose all interest in having sex with other women when they get married. Get lost troll.

  • jomicur

    It was found in a pile of rubble and ashes. Somehow I don’t think they’d want it displayed that way. That would be a much more fitting symbol of their religion, though.

  • jomicur

    I’d be okay with including the cross as long as a clearly worded placard was posted next to it: “This is all that’s left of a building destroyed in the name of God. 3,000 lives were snuffed out in a matter of minutes for the sake of religion.” Absent some such warning, the cross only serves as a kind of Christian comfort food. And American Christians get more than enough comfort, everywhere in the country, all the time.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    OK, but what is the religious context here? This cross is as religious as a pancake with a syrup smear that resembles Mary Magdelene, right?

  • Domush

    Oh the irony, seeing as you call atheists cry babies when they demand equal treatment and equal rights, yet whenever Christians lose a little bit of their privilege it is they would begin crying persecution.

  • AutAut

    You just piqued my interest in how he may have expressed his sexuality. Don’t priests become asexual after taking an oath of celibacy?

  • Domush

    Easy litmus test of religiosity of the I beam the Christians claim is not endorsing of religion.. Would they be fine having the I beam mounted as an inverted cross? If not, then we have our answer, government endorsement of religion.

  • olandp

    ” 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?”

    Why wouldn’t it be mentioned that he was a Catholic priest, but it should also be included that he was a gay Catholic priest.

  • AResident

    Let me just an add an overlooked point. Federally funded museums often display religious symbols in a historical context. For example the Holocaust Museum was created by an act of Congres. In fact a short distance from the 9/11 Memorial there is the National Museum of teh American Indian which contains religious artifacts. The Smithsonian has religious paintings. The bottom line is that they are going to lose this lawsuit.

  • TheOriginalLiz

    As long as none of my tax money is being used to maintain it or the grounds/facilities it’s on, I guess I’m okay with it. Otherwise, I believe it violates the separation of church and state and want it gone.

  • caphillprof

    Of course not. It’s no more than fodder for the Christianist war against America.

  • caphillprof

    Yes, you might also note that the words were added about the same time that God died or as Time magazine put it “God Is Dead”

  • caphillprof

    Absolutely inappropriate

  • Indigo

    The Vatican Museum has a significant collection of religious art from around the world, statues of Hindu gods and Buddhas and Papuan figures of much interest. The exhibit was closed, temporarily anyhow, when it became obvious that visitors were leaving coins and flowers and other such offerings in front of the Buddha statue. Oops!

    If folks want to leave a clump of plastic flowers in front of a Pair of I-Beams, that’s fine with me. I don’t know about the rest of the nation, but here in central Florida our highway easements are littered with little “Drive Safely” memorial signs where someone died in an automobile accident, most of them elaborately decorated with floral tributes and memorials, even photographs like the photographs on the fence near the World Trade Center site. Grief is universal, regardless of the politics behind the curtain. It’s okay. Let people morn.

  • Indigo

    As long as they also include the piece of toast with Jesus’ face that told Pope Benedict 16 to resign, it’d be okay.

  • Indigo

    Which is the gobbledegook way of saying “We take it all for granted.”

  • Indigo

    Significant, in fact.

  • Indigo

    Officially, if that concept even applies any more, we’re a Masonic country but that seems to have faded into the congressional woodwork.

  • goulo

    Yes, and that’s also inappropriate, not to mention blatantly untruthful for many people who use money.

  • Indigo

    Oh, baloney!

  • goulo

    Indeed many of us think we should take “In God we trust” off of our currency. One doesn’t exclude the other.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That hasn’t passed my notice either, nor the fact they were only added about 60-odd years ago/

  • David Tiffany

    “The group behind the lawsuit, American Atheists, says the addition of the cross to the museum will alienate atheists and cause “mental anguish.”
    Unless they repent, that mental anguish is eternal.
    http://atheistlegitimacy.blogspot.com/

  • mirror

    Aren’t you the man who wrote this? “Teabaggers built and continue to protect this country. Please go to
    hell, and please take your idiot indoctrinated Obama loving friends with
    you. All of them can probably fit in your Prius you sissy.”

    Got the trifecta going there: homophobia, right wing revisionist history, and people who don’t agree with you should roast in flames for all eternity. You are the type of hypocritical tolerance loving Christian who pretends to argue reasonably, then when someone’s back turned you stick the shiv in under the ribs. (Oh, wait, your Prius comment also confirmed my climate change crack above. A quadrafecta?!)

  • mirror

    People of your faith are controlling this country to the point of determining whether science gets funded and stopping meaningful response to climate change because you can’t wait for the rapture. Then you complain people aren’t being tolerant enough. And yet, you make a special trip to this blog to troll? Man, talk about cowardice.

  • mirror

    Because the only silent religious shrine will be a shrine for Christians. But that is what you want, isn’t it?

  • coleman cooper

    your taxpayer dollars have the words “In God we trust”…just a thought.

  • coleman cooper

    I am a Christian – and to find reason and compassion in the opinion of an atheist makes me believe that one day, we can all simply set aside our differences and move forward as a nation once more. I am not opposed to multiple religious representation at the memorial site – but at the end of the day, it should not be a religious based memorial, The lives that were lost and where we believe these souls will end up after death are very separate issues. Thanks for sharing Tor :)

  • coleman cooper

    i find the intolerance much more nauseating than propaganda. The Godless amongst are are sure a bunch of cry babies. seriously.

  • coleman cooper

    I think the point is this: These particular beams were not chosen at random – they were chosen by the men and women who worked and toiled with their blood sweat and tears for the many days after 9/11 – for those that believed, it served as a ray of hope. For those that do not, what is the harm in allowing a silent testimony of that fateful day? There is more harm in fighting this than allowing it. Are we really a nation of all faiths? If so, let Christianity be. If it is that bothersome, why not start with taking In God we trust off of our currency…

  • 2karmanot

    “Where’s my hunk of twisted metal?” Apparently Chris Christi has been giving them out as souvenirs to loyal mayors in NJ. Now it’s time to take a shower.

  • 2karmanot

    I couldn’t agree more. To even consider the center of American banking, corporate and financial power a sacred site is absolutely blasphemous. Christian propaganda imposing its sentimentality on this tragedy is nauseating.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    By the way, didn’t we go through this same exercise in 2013? Are we just at another step in the lawsuit, or had they not filed last year?

  • SkippyFlipjack

    “We are not officially a Christian country.”

    Nor unofficially.

  • Coldiez

    There were thousands of t beams at ground zero. They didn’t miraculously find 2 special ones. And of course no, they should not be on display. Fanatical religion caused 911, it is to be despised, not celebrated

  • Clevelandchick

    IMO…no. Christians weren’t the only ones who died in this tragedy. Unless they’re going to include Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Atheist religious symbols made out of the debris as well? No. It really is no place for it at all.

  • zerosumgame0005

    just to toss in my two cents, if it is treated like a religious icon, and if people pray at it or anything along those lines it should not be in the museam.

  • Sally

    Since I won’t be visiting a shrine to that tragedy, I don’t care. I really wish we could get past this event and move on. I hate that 9-11 is somehow now some hallowed day. Yes, a lot of people died, but a lot of people died in Iraq, for no reason. Where is their ‘museum?’ We don’t have a museum for Katrina, or tornado victims, or earthquake victims. George Bush made this out to be the worst event in history. It was not. He used it to get his unpaid wars going, get young people killed, and demolish a foreign country to benefit his war buddies. It’s disgusting, and every 9-11 I see his smug face and get a little sick.

  • mikeyDe

    The Christians have a long history of co-opting other people’s holy-days. Why start depriving them now?

    9/11 was a horrible day that made possible a truly horrible and avoidable event. Shock and Awe, 2003. I don’t have television but happened to be in a Radio Shack when the networks ran live video coverage of the nighttime bombings. The destruction displayed on a dozen televisions combined with the glee of the other shoppers made that the most gut-wrenching moment of my life. Where’s my museum? Where’s my hunk of twisted metal?

  • HKDaniel

    It’s horribly tacky.
    There were 10’s of thousands of crossbeams in this configuration in those towers. That some people gave significance to this ordinary piece of debris is embarrassing.
    As to it’s misuse as a ‘religious symbol’, well that’s beyond bad taste and of course you can’t promote one religion over others using this random piece of debris – which is what they are doing.
    Get rid of it – it has the remains of victims on it, where’s the outrage over that?
    Tacky tacky tacky

  • Scott E. Conlan PhD

    Thank you, John, for mentioning Fr. Mychal, the “Saint of 9/11.” Check IMDB for a feature film of his life produced by Malcolm Lazin, the Executive Director of Philadelphia’s Equality Forum. Fr. Mychal, who was openly gay, was Chaplain of the firefighters in lower Manhattan, and rode on the trucks with them to the tragic scene. He was designated as victim #1 in the disaster, having his life taken on the ground by a fallen body from above.

  • arcadesproject

    Should the 9/11 museum display a cross?
    No.
    Seriously folks, there was nothing in those events that referenced or signified Christianity in any way. Nothing. A cross would just be anomalous , indeed, unintelligible.
    In short: No.

  • Tor

    I’m an atheist, and I say fine, display the “cross.” It is a relic found on the site and some people found inspiration in it. But I also agree with writers below (or above depending on how you sort), that the museum should not be a christian shrine. We must acknowledge that people of many religions and no religions died that day. People need some way to make some sense out of an ultimately senseless act.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Aye… my problem is some of the loudest voices in favor of this Christian symbol in the museum were also yowling about the presence of a community center that happened to include a small mosque inside it nearby.

    That makes it about religious triumphalism.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I don’t care if there’s a museum that prominently displays a Christian symbol.

    I do care if my taxpayer dollars are being spent on it. Why? Because unless the museum also acknowledges that a great many innocent Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, agnostics, atheists, non-religious and the practitioners of other religions were also killed or badly injured in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it leaves the impression the only victims were Christians. That the attack was Islam vs Christianity, when in fact it wasn’t entirely about religion — there were also political issues involved.

    It gives the impression the Federal government is picking Christianity over other religions which, last time I checked the Constitution, was supposed to be illegal.

    Make that museum 100% privately funded and it’s fine.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s an interesting point about the Titanic.

  • http://blogvader.tumblr.com/ Blogvader

    I think it’d be far more productive and appropriate to ensure that the plurality of the folks who died that day is represented (which hopefully won’t require a lawsuit) rather than catering to Christians by indulging this absurd notion that part of an exploded building was a message from God. (Though such a message would be fitting for their god.)

    For instance, I’m a 33 year-old man, and I never knew there were black passengers on the Titanic until I visited the museum in Branson and learned about it, being that no one ever taught me. My school never taught that and none of the media I ever watched or read about the voyage included that information either.

    With a tragedy of this magnitude, it’s important not to act like it was simply an act against White Christians.

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