The "ground zero" area in New York City is making news again.  This time, the protest is over remnants of the buildings in the shape of a cross being used in a memorial.  Reported on a Yahoo news blog called The Lookout, a group called American Atheists and four New York citizens are suing the state over the planned memorial.

Atheist Group Sues Over Proposed Cross

The lawsuit refers to this cross as an insult to many victims on September 11, 2001, specifically those who were not Christian.  While the plaintiffs' proposals include the option of expanding the memorial to include other images, their supporters seem committed to the idea of fostering an inclusive remembrance by excluding the Christian image altogether.

"We are happy to donate a suitable and respectful display and pay all associated costs, and we won't stand idly by while atheists and their families are discounted.  We seek only fairness," David Silverman, president of American Atheists, wrote on his blog on July 28.

I've spoken to this last September in Inappropriate Conversations #28 (Capitalism in the Realm of Ideas).  Christians and other Americans who denounced Muslims wanting to build a mosque and community center in the same part of town were wrong.  Inclusion is the way forward, the way to healing.  Silverman is correct to insist that this inclusion applies to atheists as well.

I have two questions, though, and I only have an answer for one of them.

First, how does suing to remove a cross from a memorial display foster inclusiveness?  In the Yahoo blog, Jewish citizens are quoted as finding this image "offensive and repugnant to their beliefs."  Welcome to America, bless you for speaking your mind, and join me in following the founding ideas of this nation:  you don't have any "right" to not be offended.  Free speech as a principle flat-out presumes that all of us will be offended from time to time by what we hear -- and see.

Second, since I strongly support the idea of including memorial imagery to honor all of those who died on 9/11, what is the symbol that we should use for atheism?  I do not know the answer to this question, and I'm not suggesting that there isn't a suitable tribute.

If we are serious about the issue being inclusiveness, though, then intellectual honesty requires at least one thing from us:  the symbol for atheism on this memorial cannot be "removal of the cross."  Our use of free speech must be more tangible, and more profound, than merely silencing those with whom we disagree.

Here's a word of warning to Christians, though:  that same principle applies to you.  Including others in conversations about a calamity like 9/11 is precisely what Jesus would do (Luke 13: 1-5).  I openly distrust anyone who claims the Christian faith but cannot share in open discourse with others (1 Peter 3: 13-18).  Amen.


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