Liberty Counsel Leader: Atheists Are ‘Coming in to Finish the Job’ of Bringing Down the Twin Towers

A couple of weeks ago, a judge threw out American Atheists’ lawsuit against The National September 11 Memorial & Museum and its display of a 17-foot-tall steel beam cross. Judge Deborah Batts believed the giant cross was both “historical and secular” and not at all an endorsement of Christianity. (American Atheists didn’t see it that way and plans to appeal the ruling.)

In case it’s not clear — and it’s usually not in reports of this lawsuit — the atheists are just as patriotic as anyone else and supportive of the memorial overall. They just didn’t want one religion to be promoted, whatever the reason, when families who were not Christian weren’t given the same opportunity.

Earlier today, Mat Staver and Shawn Akers, both of the Christian legal group Liberty Counsel, were talking about the lawsuit on the “Faith and Freedom” radio program. Akers suggested that, while Muslim extremists brought down the Twin Towers, American Atheists is trying to “finish the job”:

Akers: … if you think about the irony of what [American Atheists was] saying, it’s that one religion, or extremists from a particular religion, brought down the Twin Towers, but the atheists are coming in to finish the job. There’s one thing left, the one thing that was left standing that gave hope, that gave inspiration to the people on 9/11. I remember watching it on television. That, miraculously, this perfect cross survived, and people got hope from that. But now these atheists have come in and literally filed charges to try to bring this thing down.

We have very successfully gone into an age of religious McCarthyism where we’re seeking out religion as a nation to eradicate it in very forthright ways.

How’s that for Christian Hyperbole? I can’t believe I have to state the obvious here, but fighting for church/state separation, even in cases where the claims don’t hold up in court, is not even close to trying to “eradicate” religion. Atheists are fighting for neutrality, not special privilege.

I spoke with AA’s Public Relations Director Dave Muscato just now to get his reaction to the clip and this is what he told me:

It was never our preference to have the WTC Cross removed from the Memorial. What we want — what we deserve as Americans — is equality. The Constitution is clear that our government may not show preference for any one religion over others or over no religion.

We never wanted to take away the Cross: We understand that, as the symbol of Christianity, it is a source of comfort and hope for millions of Christians. We offered on multiple occasions to have our own symbol installed alongside it, at our expense, to give comfort and hope to the millions of atheists in this country, and to represent the approximately 500 atheists who died on 9/11.

Our position is that if a Christian religious symbol is displayed in the Memorial, then symbols representing other religions must be allowed in as well. And, indeed, there is a Star of David and some Hindu holy water in the Memorial for exactly this reason.

Why are atheists being denied that same right? That is the reason for American Atheists’ suit: Either everyone gets to participate, or no one can. There is no halfway when it comes to equality; it must be the same for everyone in order to be constitutional.

Staver and others have argued that the cross is more than just a religious symbol — it was on television during a presidential speech, it was written about at the time of the tragedy, and so it has a unique spot in history. It never crossed their mind, apparently, than when steel beams fall from on high, some of them may, in fact, coincidentally form a cross shape… it also never occurred to them that the reason it was featured so prominently in certain events in the days following 9/11 was because Christians are in the majority and a similarly found Mormon or Buddhist symbol would likely have just been ignored.

But forget that logic. It’s much easier to say Muslim extremists began 9/11 and atheists — who totally exhibit the same mentality, amirite?! — are just finishing what the terrorists started.

That’s the honest Christian Right way.

(via Right Wing Watch)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Max Bingman

    Of course it’s going to look like a cross. That’s how it was designed when the towers were built. That’s architecture, not a miracle. WTF else is it going to look like? This is actually sillier than the lady with the goldfish cracker.

  • invivoMark

    “It never crossed their mind, apparently, than when steel beams fall from on high, some of them may, in fact, coincidentally form a cross shape…”

    Actually, if two beams fall and wind up in some sort of overlapping position, I’m not sure what other shape they can form, unless they happen to fall parallel. It’s Christians’ fault for picking such a dumb symbol in the first place.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Here is my take on it.

  • Wild Rumpus

    “…miraculously, this perfect cross survived, and people got hope from that.”
    …sooooo… your god can’t stop 3,000 people from dying in terror but his crappy metalwork project makes you feel OK about it?

  • Jordan Olsen

    Normally I don’t get too riled up about this stuff, but this is so offensive. Finish the job? Really? As though no atheists were killed on 9/11(not to mention pretty much every race or creed you could think of), and we somehow condone this religiously motivated act of terrorism? I’m so sick of liberals-democrats-atheists being attacked as un-American/anti-American.

    You know what is un-American? Adding things into the defense budget that the military has explicitly stated it doesn’t want or need so that you can get some pork barrel spending for your state or be seen as pro-military. Supporting crony-capitalist interests above the safety of our troops and citizen engineers and contractors. And worst of all – veteran’s benefits aren’t even covered in the defense budget.

    Pro-military would be finding the most efficient way to bring our troops home, taking care of those that have been injured and/or affected by PTSD and other symptoms, and making sure that they are able to reintegrate into our civilian society and find a good job with the skills they developed.

  • Paul Reed

    If some of the beam had formed a “perfect” square (and some of them probably did) would they have regarded it with the same reverence? Would it have imbued them with “hope” and “inspiration”?
    Of course not! We know and accept that collapsed buildings sometimes form familiar shapes. This cross held such meaning, not because it “miraculously survived”, but precisely *because* it’s in the shape of a cross, and Christians find that to be oh so meaningful.
    If it was even remotely meaningful to non-Christians, it would be so only due to Christians making such a big deal about it.

  • cyngus

    “…miraculously, this perfect cross survived”


    Thank you radical Muslims for 9/11, you’ve given a miracle to Christians!

    The Twin Towers as they were, were not any kind of symbol. Now that you crossed them with two planes and thousands of human lives, Christians are cheering for the perfect cross that survived. Mission accomplished!

  • m6wg4bxw

    That’s what I learned when looking into this not long ago. Commonly used structural pieces, like a T-shape, were assembled off-site and transported there. They were then bolted and welded into place. A T-shape went in, and a T-shape came out. That’s not miraculous.

    I’m actually glad Christians are celebrating such an obvious example of superstition and ignorance.

  • observer

    No, the goldfish cracker is silly, two beams coincidentally forming a religious symbol from a horrible attack, that took many lives, being treated as something significant is just plain freaky.

  • Kengi

    Hopefully a pigeon won’t crap out the face of Jesus onto the cross. I don’t’ think the Christians could handle that much concentrated miracle all in one place.

  • Travis Myers

    It’s true that a crucifix also has a secular meaning, but I don’t think that meaning would be appropriate for a memorial. It would be like making a memorial featuring an electric chair.

  • Billy Bob

    The lord works in mysterious ways remember?

  • C Peterson

    The downing of the towers was a massive victory for its perpetrators. Not because of the loss of life or the property damage. As harmful as those were, the real damage was the massive overreaction by this country and its leaders. The real damage was the huge loss of liberties that we’ve suffered- needlessly- in knee jerk reaction to a criminal act. The real damage was in incubating the attitudes expressed by Liberty Counsel and their ilk, who have exploited the tragedy in order to further reduce American freedom.

    The words we hear from the religious right are the demonstration that on 9/11, the terrorists won, and that win continues to this day.

  • wyocowboy

    sorry Billy there is no god to work in mysterious ways!

  • Max Bingman

    Jiminy crickets! It’s an ugly sucker, isn’t it?

  • John

    I think someone failed their sarcasm check.

  • Baby_Raptor

    All they have is attacking and insulting. They have to keep the rubes fired up about what the evil Other is doing so they don’t stop to really think about what their own side is doing. That’s the only defense you have when your entire world view is made up of lies and illusions.

  • King ♔ Dominic

    Even as an antitheist, I have to agree with them that religious symbols and structures like this one can have historical (secular) value. I think this is one of those cases, like preserving an ancient church or an important idol. Sorry guus, it has cultural value in a museum – I think you’re fighting a losing battle here.

    Just think of it as an exhibit about credulity.

  • meekinheritance

    It honors human sacrifice.

  • GCT

    How does it do that? The crucifix is a torture device. I mean, you do realize that, don’t you?

  • meekinheritance

    Don’t ask me–ask an Xian!

  • GCT

    So, how do you feel confident in declaring that “It honors human sacrifice?”

  • meekinheritance

    First, I was saying it tongue in cheek, by juxtaposing the belief with the reality.
    The cross is the primary Xian symbol, and thus has a place of honor. In reality, the cross was a torture device used in human sacrifice.
    Therefore, it is a symbol that honors human sacrifice (and torture).

  • Nilanka15

    Perhaps “honors” wasn’t the most appropriate word. How about “commemorates”?

  • GCT

    I *now* see what you did there.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Sarchasm alert.

  • cyngus

    You are antiatheist.

    A demolished structure is a symbol? Of what?

    If you want, it is is symbol of religious wars that still destroy this world.
    Why do you drag secularism in religious war to respect religious symbols?
    You are clearly and antiatheist.

  • SeekerLancer

    A section of crossed I-beams survived from two collapsed monolithic buildings made of crossed I-beams.


    There are so many more convincing miracles you could’ve performed on 9/11, God. I’m just saying.

  • SeekerLancer

    He’s not saying that the cross isn’t stupid, he’s saying that regardless of that it did comfort thousands if not millions of people and was prominently displayed in the media so it does have some historical context. In the context that it’s part of the history of 9/11. As a symbol it’s religious but as an artifact it is secular.

  • Paul Reed

    That’s a bit strong, cyngus.

    It can be argued that there is a secular value to it.
    In the example I gave above of a square instead of a cross, it wouldn’t be heralded as loudly, but it could still be regarded as a (secular) icon of hope.
    Plus, the fact that so many people revered the cross religiously is (sort of) a historical fact, making it (sort of) a historical artifact.

    it’s too easy to become polarised about this. Yes, it’s a religious symbol, but it’s also treated as a symbol of hope, a historical artifact, etc (mainly because of its religious significance). It’s not as clear cut as we might like. And that’s why our fight is more about allowing expressions/monuments from other religious opinions too, rather than just insisting on its removal.

  • SeekerLancer

    I completely agree with you that as a memorial it’s in poor taste and even discriminatory. As part of a museum though, it is undoubtedly an artifact of the event, what’s the issue?

  • cyngus

    The polarization came because there was not a consensus about what symbol should we keep from the demolished structure, before a religious mind obviously chose a “cross”. It is a religious symbol imposed over the secular thinking, historically or not.

  • cyngus

    Dominic already expressed his beliefs, he said he is antitheist.

    I am atheist, but from his opinions, it seems, he is OK with a demolished structure looking like a religious symbol of doubtful value for secularism.

  • r.holmgren

    “They just didn’t want one religion to be promoted, whatever the reason, when families who were not Christian weren’t given the same opportunity.”

    Seriously? That’s why they went to court complaining of headaches, diarrheoa, stomach aches, suicidal thoughts from looking at the cross? All because there weren’t even more religious symbols? Try again.

  • cyngus

    How many Americans got comfort from an accidental ruble looking like a cross?

    As you said:”There are so many more convincing miracles you could’ve performed on 9/11, God.” But god didn’t do a simple miracle to get a fly in the eyes of terrorists and miss their targets.
    If that miracle wold happen, I bet “many Americans” would find comfort in including a fly in a museum.

  • cyngus

    Yup, Christians hijacking the meaning of 9/11 give the symptoms you just described, to other religions in the US that are as bigots as Christians.

  • rustygh

    We need to eradicate all religion. That much is true. Lets hope he is right and that’s what’s happening for the better future of man.

  • Travis Myers

    Fair enough. I think that’s a good point.

  • William

    it isn’t coincidence at all.
    the coincidence is that it was standing, instead of being buried like the hundreds of other crossbeams.

  • Orclove

    Man, I am well and truly sick of the Pasty, Pudgy Guy With Opinions.

  • Gerry

    Now if the girders had formed a circle, THAT would have been a miracle!