A Jewish New Jersey firefighter is tangling with an atheist group over whether a cross carved into a support beam from the wreckage of the World Trade Center should be included in a memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
To the firefighter, who wants to put the memorial in a public park in Princeton, N.J., the symbol of a faith he doesn’t share is part of being faithful to history.
“I’m a Jew,” Princeton Deputy Fire Chief Roy James told Fox News. “Ironically, I’m fighting to have this cross there because I believe that someone’s story is behind that. That story needs to be told. It has nothing to do with religious faith. It has something to do with telling history.”
Here’s what he means:
The cross image on the beam wasn’t put there for purely spiritual or theological reasons – it was part of a grimly practical way of keeping track of the dead. As James explained to local ABC affiliate WPVI, recovery teams searching the smoking ruins of the Twin Towers 12 years ago carved crosses from construction beams and placed them onto stretchers that bore fallen police officers and firefighters, so their bodies would stand out.
That didn’t stop American Atheists attorney Bruce Afran from writing Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert to call the idea of the cross “grossly offensive” to non-believers and threatening to seek an injunction against the project if the cross is included.
“While the intention to commemorate those who died at the World Trade Center is admirable and appropriate for a community, the use of such a singular religious image will be grossly offensive and alienating to many people,” Aferman wrote.
James’ story of rescue workers using an ancient symbol of redemption to mark a spot where rescue is no longer possible lends a poignancy even the most militant atheist should understand.
“We got a historic piece,” James said. “There’s so much behind that. If we do not show the cross, we are leaving out someone’s story. We are basically saying someone’s emotions that day didn’t matter.”
The cross on that beam was welded with fire, but it was carved in blood. Not understanding that — or pretending to not understand that — is what’s grossly offensive here.
And not anything else.