The cross is a predominately Christian symbol, just like the sky is blue and the grass is green. There is simply no arguing these statements. But following the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the cross-shaped beam found in the remains of the World Trade Center transcended Christian symbolism. It took on a message of hope and strength – an assurance that, through all of the turmoil, life could still go on.
As time passes, it is important to remember the emotions this poignant symbol evoked and keep that piece of history in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, where it belongs.
American Atheists is a nonprofit organization that aims to represent the atheist community across the United States and fight injustices dealing with the separation of church and state. But the group’s most recent task of prohibiting the famous cross from being displayed at the Sept. 11 memorial – which derives a portion of its funding from public money – is a misguided effort to curb religious influence in governmental spheres.
In the bleak days following the terrorist attacks, the cross-shaped beam represented light and vitality. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the beam represented the idea that the country would endure and live on. Although the cross was nothing more than pieces of metal, one of many T-beams that previously made up the World Trade Center, its discovery and continued placement among the rubble provided solace for a country in desperate need of it.
There was no demand for the cross to be taken down. There were no claims that its continued inclusion at the building site was offensive or unjust to any atheists that may have been part of the relief effort. There were more important things to do than squabble over what could and could not be used as a source of inspiration for a population in mourning.
Today, the images of the cross standing tall amongst a pile of debris are iconic snapshots of the days and weeks following Sept. 11. Regardless of any religious connotations, that cross is a piece of history.
The demonstrations of unity and togetherness following the tragedy were unparalleled. As our country continued to emerge and get back on its feet, however, these sentiments reached their end.
In allowing the cross to be put on display at the 9/11 memorial – despite the obvious connections that it holds to a specific religious group – the message would read loud and clear.
It would convey that despite all the discord that our country has faced since the events of 9/11, we are still the same nation that came together so seamlessly when our country reached an all-time low. Despite the fact that we sit here almost 13 years removed from that day, that same capacity for unparalleled unity still exists at the root of our people.
The belief that the cross should be ineligible for exhibition at the museum because of its religious connotations is simply narrow-minded. It rejects the notion that symbols can take on new meanings given certain, tragic circumstances. The cross-shaped beams belong in the museum; anything less would be a betrayal of the history of that horrific event.