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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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9/11 Museum Can Display Crossbeam Crucifix

MANHATTAN (CN) - Displaying crucifix-shaped beams found in the rubble of the World Trade Center at the new Ground Zero museum does not violate the establishment clause, a federal judge ruled.

"By incorporating the artifact in the section, 'Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,' part of the September 11 historical narrative is told more fully, as the cross and its accompanying textual panels helps demonstrate how those at Ground Zero coped with the devastation they witnessed during the rescue and recovery effort," U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts wrote. "The cross, therefore, meets the first prong because its actual purpose is historical and secular."

Two days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, workers recovered 17-foot steel beams shaped like a cross. The artifact soon became a focal point at many religious services held at Ground Zero.

In September 2006, it was transferred to Saint Peter's Church in lower Manhattan and remained there for five years until the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey donated it to the World Trade Center Foundation for inclusion in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

American Atheists and three of members of the nonprofit challenged the donation on Aug. 26, 2011, as a state endorsement of religion that trivialized the work of non-Christian rescue workers.

Two weeks later, on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the memorial opened without the cross, but the still-unopened museum planned to move ahead with including it in one of its exhibits.

The museum is being constructed underground, beneath the memorial, and it will document the history of the 1993 and 2001 bombings through roughly 1,000 objects.

Judge Batts noted Thursday that exhibits will include physical artifacts, photographs, oral histories, video presentations, the cross, a fire truck, an ambulance, large beams from the debris, part of the World Trade Center's façade and the last column removed from Ground Zero.

"Other objects of historical significance will also be in the section, including several pieces of 'symbol steel,' which is steel that ironworkers at Ground Zero cut into religious and non-religious symbols, such as a Star of David, a Maltese cross, the Twin Towers, and the Manhattan skyline," the 39-page opinion states.

While the atheists claimed that the cross would tower over the other artifacts, the judge noted that the largest exhibits will be the last column removed from Ground Zero, standing at 37 feet, is more than twice its size.

A lawyer for American Atheists was not immediately available to comment.

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