MANHATTAN (CN) – American Atheists sued New York and New Jersey, challenging the display of a cross at the Ground Zero memorial. The cross, a T-joint steel girder found in the rubble of the World Trade Center, was moved on Saturday from a Roman Catholic church to the 9/11 memorial site.
Four members of American Atheists, all New Yorkers, joined as co-plaintiffs. Two Jewish plaintiffs say they “find the cross, a symbol of Christianity, offensive and repugnant to their beliefs, culture, and traditions, and allege that the symbol marginalizes them as American citizens.”
An atheist plaintiff raised as a Roman Catholic “finds the use of governmental action to place a cross within the September 11 Memorial and Museum, which was designed to memorialize all casualties of the World Trade Center, to be an insult to every non-Christian survivor of that attack.”
And plaintiff Mark Panzarino is the brother of the late Frank Joseph Panzarino, a member of the U.S. Marine Reserves, who worked in the rubble as a volunteer for 2 weeks after the terror attacks, and died of weakened lung syndrome as a result, in 2005.
“As a survivor of the 9/11 attack and family member of one of the brave responders to the 9/11 attack, Mark Panzarino is appalled that the state has permitted a symbol of Christianity to represent a tragedy that affected all Americans. The Panzarinos unequivocally do not wish for a cross to represent Frank Joseph Panzarino’s sacrifice unless it is a Lutheran Cross,” Panzarino says.
American Atheists also sued the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Gov. Christie Christie, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation/National September Memorial and Museum, property owners and developers Silverstein Properties, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., World Trade Center Properties, and the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus and Brian Jordan.
The church is allegedly “responsible for placing a religious symbol of Christianity on government-owned property in conjunction with a religious ceremony.” Jordan is a Franciscan friar who conducted the ceremony.
“The WTC cross has become a Christian icon,” American Atheists president Dave Silverman said in a Monday press release announcing the lawsuit.
Mincing no words, Silverman, who is not a named plaintiff, added: “It [the cross] has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn’t be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross. It’s a truly ridiculous assertion.”
The September 11 Memorial Museum, where the display is planned, has received almost $150 million in federal funding. Five million people a year are expected to visit the memorial, which hundreds of thousands will pass by every day.
“The challenged cross constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on government land, diminishing the civil rights, privileges, or capacities of atheist Americans, agnostic Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, and all others who are not Christian Americans,” the complaint states.
More than 1,000 of the 2,982 people who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001 were not Christian, American Atheists says. “To turn this memorial into a Christian prayer site is to disrespect and dishonor non-Christians who died at the hands of the Muslim terrorists that day,” according to American Atheist spokesman Dan Blair.
The lawsuit prompted an immediate response from the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian group, which said it would file an amicus brief in favor of keeping the cross at the memorial site.
American Atheists demands an injunction ordering that the cross be removed, or requiring equal space for non-Christian memorials, plus monetary damages and attorney fees.
American Atheists is represented by Danielle Mathey of Green River, Wyo., and its own legal director, Edwin Kagin, of Union, Ky.