Tag Archives: separation of church and state


And here’s where you act surprised.

I was stumbling around the internet today and I came across this article from the New York Daily News, which asserts that an atheist group’s pending lawsuit in opposition to the prominent display of a cross at the site of the 9/11 museum and future memorial (which operates on donations and has actively sought federal funding) is entirely baseless. The “cross” is a piece of the steel superstructure of the towers that was left over after their collapse, and was specifically chosen for inclusion in the museum because of its remarkable similarity to the Christian symbol. It’s like Jesus on toast, but much less of a coincidence (the building would have had thousands of such steel “crosses” in its framework).

I take no issue with the notion that the suit is unlikely to prevail, since at this point the property on which the museum sits appears to be privately owned. I also take no issue with the shamelessly pejorative light in which nonbelievers are cast throughout the article- frankly, I’ve gotten used to such unwarranted judgement. What I do take issue with is the suggestion that atheists are completely unjustified in resisting such blatant religious affiliation with what should arguably be considered a national memorial.

What follows are some comments on the article, just a sampling from the first 3 pages of comments (at the time I read the article). I think they make it clear what kind of readership the New York Daily News garners… Comments are quoted in their entirety, without alteration (even where my editorial tendencies tugged hard at my heartstrings). I encourage you to check out the most recent comments by following this link to the article to see how things have “evolved.”
“I’ll tell you what…if an equal number of atheists can get past that group of construction workers and firefighters, then they can take it down. However, since most atheists look like pencil-necked geeks, I sincerely doubt they’d be able to do it.”

“People will do anything for attention.”

“Cross = NO!! Mosque = OK!!”

“I bet on 9/11 when all hell was breaking loose, you couldn’t find an athiest anywhere. Let it go people. If it offends you that much let me be the first to say just don’t go and see it.”

“like it or not, NY and America is a Christian Nation. In God We Trust.”

“Jesus is everywhere. Even at 9/11.”

“My GOD what’s wrong with people? If you don’t believe in God then you should see this as two scraps of metal and nothing more. Go away you little trolls! this is why everyone hates Atheists because they spend more time trying to take God away form others than anything else. God Stll Loves You Dirt bag :@}”

“The Constitution guarantees freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. Thus, it is Constitutionally protected “speech” to display the artifact that is in the shape some view as the religious symbol called a cross.”
*I must point out that the above evaluation of the 1st Amendment is entirely WRONG*

“Do not let the devil steal our joy , only the fool said in his or her heart there is no God . The Atheist will come to their knee soon and ask for forgiveness , give them time they willsee that therte s only one God and it is not money/.,”

“Ummmm, if it were REALLY a cross that had been hanging in a church then the group might have a point albeit an appalling and distasteful one in my opinion. BUT this is not a church cross…it is basically a piece of the rubble from the WTC and yes Christians will see it as a cross but that’s how they see it. Like the letter “T” on a page. Maybe the atheists out there want us to remove the letter “T” from our alphabet?? What a bunch of a***holes.”

“I also believe it is kinda funny and contradicting that “atheists” believe an actual Crucifix was formed by the devastation …..If they didn’t believe it , it wouldn’t bother them !”

“What next, removing “In G..o.d We Trust” from all of our currency? Hey atheists, do what I do when I see something that offends me… look away or change the freakin channel. No impingement of freedoms with that approach.”

“whats the point of separation of church and state?”

“I hate atheists and have absolutely no respect for them. They are the scourge of the Earth.”

“I would like to offer an invitation to those who filed or agree with this lawsuit. I would llike to invte you to go FK YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“all of these misguided fools will be true believers when they are on their deathbed!”

“It’s amazing to realize that a certain percentage of fundamentalist atheists apparently believe that the “separation of church & state” means they never have to gaze upon a religious symbol while out in public. It’s also amazing that 99% of their lawsuits are against Christian symbols. It might suggest that this small group of atheists are more interested in destroying others’ religious beliefs than in offering something positive of their own beliefs. Wait until Xmas & see how much $ they spend to attack the holiday, while not offering a cent to establish an atheist soup kitchen.”
Most of these speak for themselves, but in response to that last one, I would direct you to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a massively influential charity. Mr. Gates and his wife are both atheists, and as one of the richest Americans Gates notoriously donates over half of his massive income to charity. The assumption that because atheists are not organized implies that they do not participate in charity is fundamentally a non-sequitur. Just because we don’t get together and sponsor a charity is irrelevant. Many atheists contribute to many non-denominational charities (and I have as well).

But to return to the issue, would New York citizens (perhaps I should really just say the New York Daily News) be so defensive of a different religious symbol being displayed at the museum? Say we found a piece of rubble that some might think looks like the Buddha, or say we were to frame a crescent moon and star that a Muslim had hanging on the wall of his office in one of the towers?  In regard to the former, it would likely be ignored as insignificant, in regard to the latter, we would likely hear yet more right-wing Christian rhetoric about how such a symbol cannot be allowed, and how it must be displayed at a minimum distance from the site of the attacks, and how America is a Christian nation, and how we need more legislation banning Sharia law.

The point is this- a cross at the site of the memorial, as the sole religious symbol, suggests that we have come to a consensus as a nation that it was Christian America, not America itself, that was attacked on 9/11. Nothing says otherwise and there is a gigantic cross standing in the museum. It’s not just a piece of rubble, it has been propped up to specifically resemble a cross. This is despite the fact that not all Americans, and not all of the people killed on 9/11, are Christian.It’s despite the fact that over 20% of Americans don’t identify with Christianity in any way.

Though the article in the New York Daily News might attempt to lambast nonbelievers in general, labeling them as causeless, idiotic assholes with nothing better to do than pick on Christians, the fact remains that it is atheists, not Christians, who are defending the objective position. When we permit only one religious symbol to be displayed at the site, the one religion that it represents is inherently imposed upon all of those who are supposed to be memorialized. Call me wrong, but I think that’s pretty fucked up.

Those arguing on behalf of the cross aren’t arguing on behalf of Americans, they’re arguing on behalf of Christians. The atheists arguing against the cross are in fact arguing on behalf of not just nonbelievers, but people of every faith and creed that was represented in the twin towers, if not the entire nation. We should not forget that in maintaining our constitutionally guaranteed right to not have religion imposed on us, we ensure that future generations of Christians need not fear such a tyranny of the majority as they have so casually, passively affected on others for so long.

Ironically, it is just such a tyranny that caused our founding fathers to flee the monarchy of England, and it is also what led them to insist on the ratification of the First Amendment to our Constitution.¬†This lawsuit isn’t about getting back at anyone, it’s about protecting the rights of everyone. The reason it is being brought is that it presents an interesting question of a conflict between national interest and private property, one that frankly needs to be addressed, if not to prevail then to set a precedent and draw the line. I suspect that private property rights will win out. That’s fine- we have to adhere to the careful doctrines of property law that we have established over the years. I think we all know, however, that just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it respectful to the dead.

Also, let’s be real here- this “cross” is an I-beam intersection, not a meaningful religious symbol. To treat it otherwise (like by picking it from the ruins and standing it on end in a museum) is to make an exception, and again, lets not kid ourselves that such an exception would be made for Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, or atheistic symbols. Our memorial shouldn’t be religiously affiliated post ex facto, just like the Mormon church shouldn’t be posthumously baptizing Albert Einstein. It’s not just ridiculous, it’s insulting.

I’m not arguing that all Christians are trying to push their religion on others. I’m not arguing that crosses should not be allowed to be publicly displayed on private property. All I’m arguing is that displaying a massive cross at the site of the 9/11 attacks is tasteless and should be disapproved not just by atheists, but by Americans of all creeds and callings. In defending a freedom from religion in places that clearly transcend faith, we defend the interests of each and every American, regardless of faith.

One day, I hope, we will come to realize and embrace the notion that we should be both mindful and respectful of all forms of belief, not just by allowing them where they are warranted, but by opposing them where they are not. Until then, we will continue to fight, despite little chance of success, for progress.

Painfully. Slow. Progress.

UPDATE 8/9/2011: I found an even better compilation of ridiculous comments on this issue here.