In 2011, the American Atheists – a group dedicated to fight to “protect the absolute separation of religion from government and raise the profile of atheism in the public discourse” - sued to keep the Ground Zero Cross, also known as the Miracle Cross, from being housed at the recently opened National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. The Ground Zero Cross was erected by first responders at the 9/11 site and fashioned by steel beams reclaimed from the rubble from Ground Zero at the World Trade Center, according to The Washington Times
On July 28, judges serving on a panel with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court ruled that the Ground Zero Cross did not discriminate against the American Atheists, was historical in nature and did not violate the credo of the separation of church and state. As such, the cross at the September 11 Memorial and Museum will remain where it is and will not have to be removed, according to CNN.
"With this recognition, a reasonable observer would view the primary effect of displaying the cross at ground zero, amid hundreds of other (mostly secular) artifacts, to be ensuring historical completeness, not promoting religion," the judges said in their decision.
The 2011 lawsuit was brought forth about three years before the 9/11 museum opened. The 17-foot, 4,000-pound cross is formed by intersecting steel beams unearthed at Ground Zero by a construction worker and ultimately erected in place by first responders. The beams were originally part of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. “Rev. Brian Jordan, a Franciscan priest who performed rites at Ground Zero, blessed the cross as a point of refuge,” according to The New York Post .
It eventually came to be commonly referred to as the Miracle Cross, or the Ground Zero Cross; and “It quickly became a rallying point for first responders, as well as an iconic image.” The cross had been housed in the 9/11 museum before it even opened, to the dismay of the American Atheists. “The overwhelming impression of this cross is religious,” said Edwin Kagin, the group’s national legal director.
“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.
“It’s dangerous for this to be in a government-backed display. This is about an endorsement of Christianity. What is wrong with having a plaque that says atheists died here, too’?” he asked.
A spokesperson for the 9/11 museum, Mark Alcott, said that the museum’s curators originally wanted the cross to be part of the museum due to its historical significance. Rescue workers and first responders sifting through the rubble at Ground Zero “took comfort in this remnant of the building structure.”