Supporting Inclusion at the 9-11 Memorial and Museum

Many Americans can point to September 11,2001 as a day that changed their view of the world, others, or themselves. People from an array of ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds and situations remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard that the United States was under attack.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, at the site of the attacks in New York, is nearing completion. One piece, now planned for inclusion in the Memorial and Museum, is a 20 foot high steel girder joint in the shape of a cross, which was pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center. Soon after the attacks religious rituals were being held around the girder cross and eventually the cross was moved to a Catholic church near the site, “while there, the girder set was further modified and trimmed to look more like the Latin cross of Christian tradition.”

After offers to provide other memorial artifacts to honor the non-Christians who died that day were ignored, American Atheists is suing to either have the cross removed or to have other monuments to those of other faiths and no faith included.

“Among the 2,792 individuals documented as having perished in the 9/11 attack, at least 31 were Muslim Americans, approximately 400-500 were Jewish Americans, and approximately 500 of Americans held no religious beliefs, based on disclosures made by the victims’ families. And those are only the ones we know, the actual numbers of non-Christians who died are probably even higher.”

The action by American Atheists was met with the customary condemnation of the far out Christian Right. Fury flecked rants, including many threats of violence and murder against specific atheists and atheists in general after an appearance by American Atheists representatives on Fox News, give us a general idea of the mentality and level of discussion that comes from these quarters.

But this is not an issue that only atheists can or should address. People of many backgrounds can see that inclusion of a 20 foot high sectarian religious symbol at a place commemorating a devastating attack against the United States, by religious fanatics, is an unwarranted intrusion of divisive imagery. It is intended to further a specific narrow worldview at the expense of all others. It is a seizure of a public space with the intent to embrace those who follow a particular line and to cast out those who don’t.

The fact that many who enthusiastically support the placement of a huge Christian icon in the middle of the memorial are the same folk who reacted with indignation at the possibility of a mosque anywhere near the site, demonstrates the divisiveness of religion and the hypocrisy of many of the loudest squawkers. It also tells us that many supporters of the cross know it is divisive and are working to claim ownership of the memorial by planting a cross there as a colonizer would plant a flag. They are operating in and with bad faith.

The actions by atheists to foster more inclusiveness should be judged on the merits of the actions, not popularity. Atheists, thanks to the persistent propaganda of countless clergy over many years, are a despised group in the United States. Those who really despise us, despise us for simply existing. They despise us whether we speak softly or whether we carry a big stick. Any action we take is met with outrage by the already outraged.

Please read the lawsuit here, it doesn’t require a law degree or more than a few minutes of your time. Also please visit the 9-11 Memorial Inclusion Campaign page for more information and actions you can take.

Greg Lammers is the American Atheists Missouri State Director. He works with freethought groups and individuals in the state and the region to promote secular values and godlessness. He lives in Columbia Missouri with his wife Katie and their young son Henry. He can be reached at glammers@atheists.org

  • Joshua Fisher

    I do not really have a problem with the 9/11 cross being included as an exhibit in the museum at the 9/11 memorial. I do not think that it should be a center piece, or part of the memorial itself. but it is a piece of history. It is a symbol that gave hope and comfort to many Christians in a difficult time. It is fair to represent that. I don’t feel that it should be necessary to display other religious icons in this context unless other icons were found and need to be represented in a similar sense.

    I am, of course, aware that there is a high likelihood that some groups would be willing to misuse an opportunity like this to try to get the cross to be part of the actual memorial, to make the memorial a Christian memorial. This should not be allowed to happen.