The Humanist Hour and the 9/11 Cross

I’m a bit late to this, but November’s edition of The Humanist Hour (Episode #67) featured an interesting interview with Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists Inc. He spoke mainly about the Reason Rally (a post on that is coming shortly), but he also addressed the controversy over the 9/11 Cross, which I’ve written on before here and here.

As on previous occasions when discussing this issue, Silverman made a number of flatly inaccurate claims which I have determined to be either false or misleading, and a number I can find no evidence to support and for which no evidence has been provided.

First, Silverman repeatedly stated that the cross was being installed in the Memorial, when in fact it is being installed in the Memorial Museum, a separate part of the site. As I have argued this is a significant distinction both legally and morally.

He stated that the cross had been installed in a “religious ceremony” and that the ground on which it now resides in the museum had been “consecrated”. The first part of this claim is misleading, the second unsubstantiated: there was indeed a religious ceremony prior to the installation of the cross in the museum, when it was situated on public ground. There was no such ceremony while it was being placed in the museum or after it was installed. I can find no evidence, and none has ever been presented, that the ground inside the museum on which the cross now sits was consecrated.

Silverman claimed that the only other religion represented in the museum is the Judaism. This is untrue – a Muslim prayer shawl is also to be included in the exhibit. In addition, Silverman claimed that the addition of the Star of David into the exhibit was merely an attempt to get Jewish people to support the museum after American Atheists Inc. had complained. On the contrary, there were many months of public consultation regarding what should be housed in the exhibit, and anyone was able (and is still able) to suggest items to be housed within. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that the addition of the Star of David was merely a cynical attempt to get Jewish people on side.

Finally, Silverman claimed that the attempt to get the 9/11 Cross housed in the museum is all part of a strategy by the religious right to set a precedent under which we will see greater encroachment of the separation between church and state. I do not doubt some of the religious right do pursue such strategies, but it is clearly not the case that this situation with the cross was manufactured wholesale by religious bogeymen. The cross, like it or not, has been a legitimate source of solace for many New Yorkers since it was unearthed and is a real piece of cultural history.

That American Atheists Inc. is seeking to defend the secular nature of the government of the USA is laudable, and often they take on necessary and unpopular causes. This cause, however, is only unpopular – there is no infringement of the boundary between church and state here, and to argue that there is one is to argue on the basis of numerous misrepresentations and inaccuracies. American Atheists Inc. should withdraw the suit, and start giving out accurate information.