The chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus has slammed a lawsuit filed by a group of atheists that wants a cross enshrined at the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York City to be removed, calling the group’s efforts “sad and misguided.”
Congressman J. Randy Forbes, representing Virginia’s Fourth District and also co-chair of the prayer caucus, issued a statement Wednesday in support of the steel beam cross installed at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in downtown Manhattan, at the site of the World Trade Center attacks.
The organization, American Atheists, filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to have the cross removed, or at least be accompanied by symbols of value to other faith communities and non-religious groups.
“The attempt to remove the cross is another sad and misguided example of incessant efforts to remove all religious symbols from public life,” Forbes said. “To remove this cross, a physical part of the history of that tragic day, would be an insult to the many who found solace in its symbolism.”
Forbes noted that the cross, made up of two intersecting steel beams found intact amid the rubble of the 2001 terrorist attacks, “has served as a symbol of hope for many devastated by the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history.”
On Tuesday, conservative legal group the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said it planned on filing a friend-to-the-court brief on behalf of former firefighter and first responder Tim Brown in support of the World Trade Center cross.
“We will aggressively defend the placement of this cross,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said in a statement Tuesday. “This memorial, a powerful part of the history of 9-11, serves as a constitutionally-sound reminder of the horrors that occurred nearly a decade ago.”
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) also insist that the cross’s placement in the museum is legally sound, and claim that the American Atheists’ lawsuit “is completely out of step with the Constitution.”
“One atheist group’s agenda shouldn’t diminish the sacrifice made by the heroes of 9/11,” said ADF Senior Counsel Byron Babione in a statement on the group’s website. “A cross like this one simply does not amount to a government establishment of religion under either the U.S. Constitution or the New York Constitution.”
Babione added, “Nothing in the Constitution authorizes atheists to scour the landscape on a mission to seek and destroy memorial crosses.”
ADF is currently fighting a different lawsuit also filed by American Atheists that seeks to remove roadside crosses honoring fallen Utah state troopers. That particular case is currently on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
American Atheists filed their lawsuit against the 9/11 cross in a Manhattan court Monday, claiming the installation of the cross at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum “constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on governmental land” and is “repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.”
According to the lawsuit, several claimants have suffered both physical and emotional damages from the “existence of the challenged cross.”
Among the damages listed are “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.”
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the state of New Jersey and its governor, New York and its mayor, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the company that owns the lease for the site of the museum, and several other entities and individuals.
The iconic World Trade Center cross was placed inside the 9/11 memorial museum during a ceremony on July 23. It was originally erected on Church St. on the side of St. Peter's Church, the oldest Catholic parish in New York.
The museum, whose mission is to remember and honor the 3,000 people killed in the 1993 and 2001 terror attacks, invites the public to submit items to commemorate those who died during the attacks. It will open to the public in September 2012.