Banning Crosses, Erasing History


A simmering controversy surrounding the "Ground Zero Cross" exposes the intolerance and absolutism behind ongoing battles over religious symbols on public property. Contrary to popular belief, it's not Christian conservatives who normally start these bitter disputes. It's more often atheist activists who seek to alter the long-standing status quo by scrubbing the landscape of the most visible signs of the nation's religious heritage.

American Atheists, an organization representing the civil liberties of agnostics, filed suit in 2011 to block display of the Ground Zero Cross anywhere on the grounds of the new memorial museum planned for the World Trade Center site. The artifact in question became the best known piece of debris recovered from the terrorist attacks, when workmen spotted it on Sept. 13, 2001. The huge cross beam, presumably detached from the collapse of the North Tower and hurled down with many tons of rubble onto the stricken eight-story structure to its northeast, somehow survived intact and almost immediately became an informal shrine for the tireless crews who labored to clear Ground Zero.

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