Friday, July 29, 2011

The 9/11 Cross

Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum

For the past five years, the 17-foot-tall cross was displayed outside a nearby Catholic church. On Saturday it was moved again, to the site of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, where it is to be in the permanent collection.
Generally I support, however reluctantly, suits against specifically religious displays & observances on public property. I say reluctantly because I consider some of these suits unnecessary, or an ornery objection to something most people consider more a  community tradition than matter of religion. Sometimes the suits result from a stubborn refusal of local government to make adjustments in the contexts of religious-themed displays, so if the officials demand an all-or-nothing court ruling, that's what they get. (Maybe all they need to do is just hum "Silent Night" at the "Holiday Tree" lighting.)

Remember, we're dealing here not only with the families of civilian 9/11 casualties, but with the New York City Fire Department, which still has a strong Roman Catholic culture. Ground Zero is also a national monument with, I hope, a global message. 

Marc D. Stern, who is the associate general counsel of the American Jewish Committee and has long studied church-state issues, said the lawsuit presented “an extra-difficult case.” 
“It’s a significant part of the story of the reaction to the attack, and that is a secular piece of history,” he said. “It’s also very clear from the repeated blessing of the cross, and the way believers speak about the cross, that it has intense present religious meaning to many people. And both of those narratives about this cross are correct.”
Not very helpful. But this is:
Ira C. Lupu, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and an authority on faith and the law, described the lawsuit as “plausible.” The outcome, he said, could depend on how the beam was displayed when the museum opened.

“If the cross is presented in a way that ties it to the history of its discovery and the religious perception of it by some firefighters or neighbors, then the museum would be framing it as a historical artifact, rather than as a symbol deserving religious reverence,” Professor Lupu said. “I think if it were framed in that way, it could be effectively defended on the merits.”
I don't agree with The Rev. Brian J. Jordan, a Franciscan priest with a proprietary attitude (see photo) who began holding Mass by the cross in September 2001, that the lawsuit is “the bizarre ramblings of angry minds.” The most bizarre ramblings these days come from far-right protestants who would rewrite America's history to make it seem that we didn't seek greater religious freedom in our independence, but rather a Christian conformity different from Europe's only in that we get to elect Christians rather than have them sit on thrones. This particular group bringing the suit, American Atheists, is no more representative of all American atheists than the Southern Baptist Convention represents all Baptists. There is a middle way  for the display of this cross, as Mr. Lupu noted, but  the most shrill & inflexible opposition to the solution may come from Christians far from New York City.

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