Atheists are trying to prevent the cross-shaped steel beams recovered from the World Trade Center wreckage from being included in the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
The Miracle Cross, or Ground Zero Cross, was found by construction worker Frank Silecchia, who said on NBC's "Today" show that the cross comforted him. It quickly became a rallying point for first responders, as well as an iconic image, and it has already been installed in the new museum ahead of its May opening, the Religion News Service reported.
"I was already working 12 hours. I was quite weary and the cross comforted me," Mr. Silecchia said. "I never stood here before any media and said it's about religion. But I say it's about faith — the faith that was crushed on 9/11."
The group American Atheists says the cross is a part of religious history and its presence on public property violates the separation of church and state.
"The overwhelming impression of this cross is religious," Edwin Kagin, the group's national legal director, told a New York federal appeals court.
"We are worried about the alienation being suffered by atheists. This cross screams Christianity, but there were perhaps 500 or 1,000 people who died in this tragedy who were not Christians.
"It's dangerous for this to be in a government-backed display. This is about an endorsement of Christianity. What is wrong with having a plaque that says atheists died here, too'?" he asked.
Mark Alcott, representing the museum, which is run by a foundation and receives public funding, said, "The curators decided to place this object in the museum because they believe it was an important part of the history of this story. Rescue workers took comfort in this remnant of the building structure and they prayed to it as a religious object," the Telegraph reported.
"But there is a difference between displaying an artifact of historical significance and saying we want you [the public] to bless it — museum-goers understand that distinction," he said.
The appeals court is expected to make a decision in several months.
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