American Atheists is demanding that the 17-foot crossbeam, a familiar site for visitors to Ground Zero, be removed or altered to add an atheist monument of similar proportions, National Post reports.
The cross has become a centerpiece in the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum, a towering steel beam that became a symbol of hope after it was found among the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
“The overwhelming impression of this cross is religious,” Edwin Kagin, the national legal director for American Atheists, told a New York federal appeals court. “We are worried about the alienation being suffered by atheists. This cross screams Christianity, but there were perhaps 500 or 1,000 people who died in this tragedy who were not Christians.”
The group is appealing a lower court ruling which said that placing the cross in the museum did not breach the first Amendment clause that separates religion and government because the artifact has a “secular purpose.”
Mark Alcott, representing the museum, which is run by a foundation and receives public funding, said: “The curators decided to place this object in the museum because they believe it was an important part of the history of this story. Rescue workers took comfort in this remnant of the building structure and they prayed to it as a religious object.
Reena Raggi, a member of the three-judge panel that will deliver its ruling, seemed skeptical of the claims by the atheist group. “There are countless cases of museums including religious artefacts among their exhibits and it’s going to be described in a way that talks about the history of the object, what is the problem here?” she said.
Publication Date: March 11, 2014.