By Michael F. Haverluck
A lawsuit that challenges the placement of the cross at the site of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center alleges atheist plaintiffs have suffered serious physical and mental illness because the religious symbol has made them feel excluded.
Nonsense, says a new friend-of-the-court brief to be filed Monday in the case by the American Center for Law and Justice. The brief, which carries the signatures of more than 100,000 people, argues there have been no known sightings of suicides or uncontrolled vomiting at or around the Ground Zero cross.
“The legal argument is absurd,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow charged Wednesday.
American Atheists, he said “is making some astonishing claims.”
The group contends the placement of the 17-foot-tall symbol at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is making some atheists unbearably sick.
“The plaintiffs, and each of them, are suffering, and will continue to suffer damages, both physical and emotional, from the existence of the challenged cross,” the lawsuit American Atheists v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey states. “Named 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.”
The suit explains the named plaintiffs “have seen the cross, either in person or on television, are being subjected to, and injured in consequence.”
Sekulow doubts the claims are true, finding it uncanny that only a select group of non-believers is susceptible to such a debilitating “disease.”
“These claims are ridiculous,” the ACLJ founder insists. “And so is the lawsuit. In just a matter of days, we will be filing a critical amicus brief defending this Ground Zero cross, which consists of two intersecting steel beams that survived the Twin Towers collapse on 9/11. We have a unique opportunity to not only urge the court to reject this flawed lawsuit, but to send a powerful message to the court: that more than 100,000 Americans are standing with us in this brief ─ urging the court to keep this powerful memorial in place.”
If American Atheists’ demand to remove the cross doesn’t succeed, organization officials already have an alternative: something else must be erected next to the cross.
“They even make a bizarre suggestion about erecting a ’17-foot-high A for Atheists’ to promote their non-beliefs at the site,” Sekulow said.
The American Atheists group is suing numerous individuals and organizations over the cross, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center Properties, Church of the Holy Name of Jesus and Friar Brian Jordan, who blessed the cross.
The main point of the action appears to be the indignation American Atheists President David Silverman feels about the God of the Bible and those who express faith in Him.
“The cross has become a Christian icon,” Silverman stated. “It has been blessed by so-called holy men a few times, and presented as a reminder that God, in his infinite power of goodness, who couldn’t be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists, or stop the fire, or hold up the buildings to stop 3,000 people from being crushed, cared enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross. Ridiculous.”
Silverman and other atheists argue that the cross unconstitutionally represents the government’s establishment of religion, but Sekulow disagrees.
“Our initial legal analysis of their complaint reveals that while the lawsuit argues that it is unconstitutional to ‘plac[e] a religious symbol of Christianity on government-owned property,’ it ‘fail[s] to note that the cross is actually a remnant of the ruins of the Twin Towers,’” Sekulow shared.
Christian organizations aren’t the only ones who concur.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum described the cross in a document submitted to the court as an “important and essential artifact [that] comprises a key component of the retelling of the story of 9/11, in particular, the role of faith in the events of the day and, particularly, during the recovery efforts.”
The museum stated it is “not in the business of providing equal time for faiths, we are in the business of telling the story of 9/11 and the victims of 9/11.”
“This steel remnant became a symbol of spiritual comfort for the thousands of recovery workers who toiled at ground zero, as well as for people around the world,” the head of the museum’s proclaimed. “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.”
The ACLJ points out three out of four Americans have said they support the Ground Zero cross. The Christian legal organization also notes that the cross has strong support from the Anti-Defamation League.
“Allowing this cross to be included in the memorial along with other artifacts found at the site does not constitute government endorsement of a religious message,” the ADL declared in a public statement. “Rather, it is an acknowledgement that these beams – part of the infrastructure of one of the towers – acquired historical significance by giving comfort to many who lost loved ones in the attacks, as well as those who spent days and weeks sifting through the ash and debris.”
Even a fellow atheist calls the legal battle a “frivolous lawsuit.” Susan Jacoby, who writes the Washington Post’s “The Spirited Atheist” blog, acknowledged the suit “misconstrues the First Amendment” and questioned whether Silverman “really believes this nonsense.”
Even Silverman himself realized his legal attack on the cross would gain little to no support.
“As president of the American Atheists organization, I promise to make sure that everyone, even those who are indifferent to our cause … will hate us,” the American Atheists president said.
Silverman is no stranger to unpopular protests. His organization took a stand against the city of New York naming a street “Seven in Heaven,” contending the title honoring seven first-responder firefighters who died on 9/11 drew a biased link between Christianity and heroism.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation entered into a decade-long lawsuit to remove a World War I memorial cross – erected in 1934 in a remote area of California’s Mojave Desert – because it offended an atheist who happened to hike near it. A court ordered the cross to be covered, and it eventually was stolen while the lawsuit was moving forward. After going to the U.S. Supreme Court, a land swap was approved.
Months ago in Camp Pendleton, Calif., the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation pushed the U.S. Marines to remove a cross on the base that was erected to replace a cross that burned down. The crosses were put up to honor fallen soldiers.
But MAAF had another way of looking at the cross.
“We still have continuing exploitation of military service and veterans to promote Christian privilege,” a statement on MAAF’s blog reads, referring to the presence of memorial crosses on armed forces bases. “[It] sends a message of exclusion rather than inclusion on this secular holiday.”
ACLJ Director of International Operations Jordan Sekulow said the atheists seem to be getting their way.
“They are setting a new precedent,” he asserted. “They are saying, ‘We don’t have to go to court; we’ll just complain.”
Sekulow said the military is so politically correct “at this point that it will build an $80,000 pagan worship center for witches to come in and have séances and cast spells for three pagan students at the Air Force Academy, but it will pull down every cross it can, whether it’s in a base in Afghanistan or Camp Pendleton or a Jesus statue that’s been up in Montana in the mountains since World War II.”