Last week, New York's Mayor Bloomberg defended a group of atheists that is suing to prevent the September 11 cross from being erected in the 9/11 memorial and museum at the World Trade Center. Mayor Bloomberg said, “...they're free in our country to not believe and not practice, and we should defend their right to do that, just as we should defend individuals' rights to practice and believe.”
The Mayor is absolutely correct. However, in discussing the 9/11 cross, Mayor Bloomberg failed to tell the litigants one important thing: it's not about you.
The 17 foot 9/11 cross, displayed since 9/11 outside a nearby Catholic church, was moved last week to its proposed permanent site at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. The American Atheists, a nonprofit group based in New Jersey, immediately filed legal action, arguing that a religious symbol has no place in a museum partly financed by the government and clearly violates the United States Constitution and state civil rights law.
According to American Atheists, the 9/11 cross is offensive and gives them “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.” Really? There's definitely something wrong somewhere when the symbol of a belief system apart from your own stirs that much anxiety and ill health. Atheists have every right to their opinion but do not have the right (nor does anyone) to impose that opinion upon others.
At the very least, the 9/11 cross is is a historical artifact, and as such, belongs in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. For individuals personally touched by the 9/11 tragedy, the cross transcends history as a remarkable symbol of faith and survival. It represents the sheer perseverance and strength of human spirit that allowed them to put one foot in front of the other and slowly move forward after unspeakable loss. The cross reminds the entire world of how citizens of New York, the greatest city in the greatest nation in the world, came together to prevail against evil. While the American Atheists' argument that a religious symbol does not belong on government property is viable, how on earth could a tangible triumph of the human spirit, like the 9/11 cross, be offensive? Are American Atheists truly concerned with protecting the Constitution, or are they seizing the 9/11 cross to advance their “religion is ridiculous” agenda?
Mayor Bloomberg correctly noted that many people found strength in religion after the 9/11 attacks. Removing the cross, a symbol of that strength, from the National September 11 Memorial and Museum will not diminish that fact nor deter believers. American Atheists would do well to heed Mayor Bloomberg's words: “My personal opinion has always been you shouldn't tell people what religion to practice or whether to practice a religion, but you shouldn't also prevent people from practicing a religion they want in any ways they want.”
If the 9/11 cross is meaningless to you, ignore it, but respect what it represents to others. It's about them. Not about you.