PRINCETON — A nationally-recognized atheist activist group is threatening to file for an injunction if officials in Princeton, New Jersey publicly erect a steel beam memorial recovered from the remains of the September 11th attacks because the display has a cross carved into its center.
American Atheists state that the primary problem is the proposed placement of the monument, which was hoped to be erected on state property, possibly near the Princeton battle monument. In a letter to Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, American Atheists attorney Bruce Afran said that the cross would likely be repulsive to those who do not ascribe to the Christian faith.
“While the intention to commemorate those who died at the World Trade Center is admirable and appropriate for a community, the use of such a singular religious image will be grossly offensive and alienating to many people,” he stated.
“While the image of the cross on the girder is the space remaining after a cross was carved from the girder, it nonetheless presents the indisputable image of a cross on a memorial for those who died in the attacks of 9/11 — a religious image in remembrance of the dead,” Afran continued. “It goes without saying that the image of the cross is a common religious feature on the graves of the deceased who adhered in life to a Christian faith.”
The monument possesses meaning for Princeton residents as nine of its citizens perished in the 2001 attacks in New York City. According to reports, rescue workers and welders on the scene cut out crosses from the remains of the beams and placed them on the stretchers of the deceased.
Princeton Deputy Fire Chief Roy James, a Jew, says that he has no problem with the monument being erected on public property, and sees the beam as more of a historical piece rather than a religious statement. He has been determined to install the monument on state-owned land despite opposition from atheists.
“Ironically, I’m fighting to have this cross there because I believe that someone’s story is behind that. That story needs to be told,” he told commentator Todd Starnes. “It has nothing to do with religious faith. It has something to do with telling history.”
James had contacted the Port Authority last year to request a beam from the World Trade Center, and has been working to secure possession of the piece.
“If we do not show the cross, we are leaving out someone’s story,” he said. “We are basically saying someone’s emotions that day didn’t matter.”
But American Atheists say that the memorial should rather be displayed in a free speech zone, where those without faith may also install their own monuments if desired.
The city is now considering its options in light of the organization’s letter. The group had requested a response by Tuesday.
As previously reported, American Atheists had also objected to the presence of a steel beam cross from the 9/11 Museum in New York City because it allegedly promoted Christianity. The organization asserted that the piece had caused the public to suffer from “depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish,” as well as indigestion. In March, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit, stating that the cross served both a “historic and secular purpose.”
Photo: FOX/Todd Starnes