When they were discovered at the Ground Zero site shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the steel beams forming the shape of a cross were regarded by many as a divine sign and they quickly became a rallying symbol for many aid and rescue workers in lower Manhattan.
In recent days, a media debate has formed over whether the beams, dubbed the "Miracle Cross," deserve a place at the 9/11 museum in New York. The debate follows a lawsuit brought by a group of atheists arguing that the cross doesn't belong in a museum that will be operated using both private and public funding.
American Atheists, a New Jersey organization that has dedicated itself to the separation of state and religion, opposes the inclusion of the steel cross at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. A previous lawsuit by the group was rejected last year and it is now appealing the decision in federal court.
The cross is expected to be on display at the museum when it finally debuts to the public, with an opening day set for sometime in May. The museum has experienced numerous delays, but the memorial portion of the site opened on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, in 2011.
On its website, the 9/11 museum said it is pursuing federal support as part of an "ongoing private-public partnership to ensure a lasting place of remembrance for generations to come." So far, the site has relied largely on private donations, and the museum is expected to charge a $24 admission fee per visitor.
American Atheists reportedly told the federal court in New York that the cross — which is also known as the "Ground Zero Cross" — constitutes a religious symbol. "The cross screams Christianity," said Edwin Kagin, the group’s national legal director, according to reports.
The group also expressed concern that the cross would alienate atheists. It is arguing that the museum should display a plaque commemorating atheists who died in the attacks.
The steel cross was on display for a period outside St. Peter's Catholic Church in downtown New York. Last year, a judge in New York threw out the atheist group's lawsuit, saying that the steel beams can be displayed at the museum because they are of historical significance.
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