The first time I saw it, I was on a mission trip to New York City in June, 2002—just about 9 and a half months after the terrorist attacks. The Cross at Ground Zero stood on a pedestal with an American flag waving at the base of it. At that time, efforts to recover those who perished had recently been completed. It was, and still is considered to be sacred ground, even as construction continues there to this day.
The two intersecting steel beams where found by construction workers in the rubble in the days following September 11, 2001. The cross became a source of comfort to people of all faiths who worked at the site, as well as to those who have visited for more than a decade.
It’s no surprise of course that atheist organizations have expressed their displeasure with the icon over the years. Most recently, American Atheists has filed a lawsuit that claims, oddly enough, that the cross at Ground Zero is making them sick.
According to WorldNet Daily, the lawsuit, American Atheists v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey makes the bizarre claim that the plaintiffs “have suffered …. dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack.” They go on to make the suggestion that at the very least, they’d like to have a 17-foot “A for atheists” structure built in order to promote their non-beliefs at Ground Zero.
Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice calls the lawsuit “absurd” and countered by filing a friend- of- the- court brief signed by more than 100,000 people in support of the Ground Zero Cross.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum has stated that the cross is an “important and essential artifact [that] comprises a key component of the retelling of the story of 9/11” The museum also contends, “We are in the business of telling the story of 9/11 and the victims of 9/11”, and the Cross is part of an exhibit to tell that story. One museum official said, “In the historical exhibition, the cross is part of our commitment to bring back the authentic physical reminders that tell the story of 9/11 in a way nothing else can.”
Even other atheist groups find the lawsuit to be a frivolous waste of time. Susan Jacoby, who writes an atheist blog for The Washington Post, agreed it “misconstrues the First Amendment”.
It’s unlikely American Atheists will get very far with this particular lawsuit, but still they’ll press on, looking for some other thing, somewhere to offend them. In fact, they seem to spend an awful lot of time and energy railing against Someone they say they don’t even believe exists. They’re either the stupidest people on the planet, or there’s something else going on here.
To put it another way, let’s look at unicorns. I don’t believe they exist. Until I just typed that sentence, I haven’t thought about them. I don’t start organizations or give to organizations that try to get other people to believe unicorns don’t exist. I don’t file lawsuits to attempt to remove all unicorns from public display. When I see a picture of one, I don’t claim physical illness or mental distress. They just aren’t on my radar.
Perhaps these atheists are feeling physical symptoms because something deep inside themselves that they can’t control is coming to the surface. The part they deny exists (the spirit) is trying to break free. For an atheist, the Ground Zero Cross may not be causing indigestion so much as it’s causing conviction.
*** UPDATE: 4/1/13: On Friday (Good Friday), March 29, 2013, New York Federal Judge Deborah Batts rejected the atheist group’s arguments and threw this case out. You can read about it here. A victory for common sense and The Cross.