The American Atheists lawsuit

There’s a bit of a hub-bub over a lawsuit by the group American Atheists. Some of it is expected while other reactions are mildly surprising. Here’s the gist. An atheist group is suing over attempts to use a World Trade Center crossbeam as part of a public memorial. The crossbeam is a “t” and basically is viewed as symbolic of the cross of Jesus. We all know this. The atheist group knows it, Christians know it, liberals know, conservatives know it. Anyone who says the beam is not being revered because it represents a particular aspect of a particular religion is just being insincere.

As expected, most Americans find this lawsuit offensive. By and large, it is Christians who really care – this is a symbol of their religion and they believe it is okay to display it publicly while using public funding and government property. But those who are sympathetic to religion also believe the crossbeam ought to be displayed. Or, perhaps more commonly than that, people believe this is a trivial issue. Of course, if we were talking about a Mosque a few blocks away, it might be a different story.

One other reaction has been from PZ. His beef is that this is the wrong battle to pick. People aren’t going to see this at all rationally (plus he sees it as relatively trivial). September 11, 2001 was an emotional day for a lot of people. Attacking any method they use in order to cope is going to be viewed extremely negatively. I can understand that, but I still find this disappointing. PZ doesn’t tend to be one to back away from controversy. Besides that, I’m not sure when the last time it was that he cared about how people are going to react to offensive things. Jon Stewart and Richard Dawkins have also come out against the suit. Stewart did so in part because he views this as a trivial issue over which to sue, but also probably because he has so much emotion tied up in the whole day. Dawkins has posted articles on his site which defends the display as one of many.

As for myself, this seems like a fine lawsuit. Yes, it is politically difficult, and no, it isn’t going to help the image of any atheist group, but so what? The short-term effect will be negative with all the press, but should American Atheists succeed, it will represent a significant win. That crossbeam is only being viewed as special because it is being viewed as representative of the cross on which Jesus died. Atheists, Jews, Muslims, deists, agnostics, and Buddhists don’t see it as special. Why should any of us have to pay for it to be displayed? Why should we be forced to remember all the murdered non-Christians with a Christian symbol? Why can’t we just leave it at the church where it has been? I don’t see any particularly good justification for why it ought to be used as part of a public memorial. And besides, if anyone found any piece of rubble which represented the symbol of any other religion, we all know there would be an uproar against its public display.

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8 Responses

  1. So don’t remember them thus. Do you think a symbol, important to many if not most, should be excluded, based on a mandate for there to be no state religion? Nor is there any mandate against the free exercise thereof.

    With that said, I would find it extremely odd and insensitive to exclude something such as this in any circumstance, private or public. Should it be scrapped Michael? Does the fact that some of the metal was turned into a warship, dishonor the individuals killed that may have been anti war, in general?

    I think not. I feel that any symbolic anything should be included in the museum. should it bee a tattered flag, a cross shaped piece of rubble or a torn book, I really see very little difference. If it increases knowledge, interest and understanding about what happened, it should be included. If that be a Dilbert shaped piece of rubble, than so be it.

  2. Of course all religious symbols ought to be banned from public display done with public money on government property. How popular they are, or how much meaning they hold is not relevant. And yes, the metal that was used for a warship does dishonor pacifists, but there is no separation of opinion and military.

  3. There is no technical separation of church and state. There is only no law establishing and no law prohibiting the free exercise there of.

    Explain to me, which this accomplishes.

    It very much does matter how popular, how important, how symbolic and for how many, something is. How far does your proclamation that those things are irrelevant go? Does it extend to the Holocaust Memorial/Museum?

  4. And lets be honest, I really don’t think this one is going to result in a win.

    There is only so much money for lawsuits. Usually, its a good idea to pick the ones you will win.

  5. There’s a reason Christine O’Donnell was laughed at on stage at that law school.

    A Holocaust Memorial bears direct relevance to religious groups, obviously most prominently Jews. The same cannot be said of the Twin Towers – that was an attack on the West and specifically Americans, not one on Christians.

  6. “Of course all religious symbols ought to be banned from public display done with public money on government property.”

  7. Okay, fair enough, I’ll qualify that statement. All religious symbols which are displayed for the sake of promoting a religion ought to be banned from public display done with public money on government property. Religious displays in Holocaust memorials are displayed for the sake of promoting history, not religion.

  8. And I see very little difference is this case, where some are wanting to exclude a specific piece of rubble, Rubble, that is otherwise fully qualified to be there, even given it’s symbolism and importance to one group.

    I’ve read articles from everyone from rabbis to a atheist firefighter who was present on 9/11, all of whom can see little or no reason why a widely recognized symbol of remembrance in the western world should be excluded here because that symbol concurrently happens to be a religious symbol and also important in a supernatural sense.

    Should all rubble/displays now be screened for religious symbolism prior to display? You know… I think at the state museum they have some fish that are in a sort of six sided star thing… I have to run down to the court house, I’ll be back later.

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