Those of you living in or around New York City might remember that the American Atheists Association was displeased that two iron girders had formed themselves serendipitously into the shape of the cross, and that the vast majority of workers at the WTC site chose to view this cross as a symbol of hope. That cross and the words of the easily irritated AAA are pictured.
The cross was saved by the WTC workers who, along with many members of the New York community, requested that it be included in the WTC 9/11 museum, it’s historical significance being obvious.
Enter Father Brian Jordan (who is a friend of yours truly) who participated in a ceremony where the cross was transfered to the museum. Father Brian’s first words, which are relevant, were, “Give praise to our creator, God the Father, who created Heaven and Earth. God the Father is the Father of Abraham who is fully embraced by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We are sisters and brothers of the same God through shalom, salaam and peace. Bless all their respective members who died here on September 11, 2001.”
He continued in this vein, saying such an extraordinary thing like, “We commit ourselves to educating people to mutual respect and esteem, in order to help bring about a peaceful and fraternal coexistence between people of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.” (This is from the Decalogue mentioned below.)
Well, this was too much for the AAA who decided to sue Father Brian, the 9/11 Museum, the Port Authority, and, why not?, a church located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan which had nothing to do with the affair. The AAA were incensed that anybody should be allowed on public grounds to issue such horrifying “exclusionary” words. They wanted to be sure that this sort of ugliness would not be countenanced and would not go unpunished.
The obvious fallacy committed (but unrecognized) by the AAA is that to include some religions in a museum is necessarily to exclude all others, including non-religion. This would be like if the Metropolitan Museum of Art hung a picture by Caravaggio and somebody sued claiming that this should not be allowed unless all painters should be represented.
The lawsuit proceeded apace until, quite suddenly in a fit of rare logic, the AAA realized that suing a man for merely speaking his faith would not (yet) yield a successful outcome. The AAA dropped from the suit Father Brian and the random church, but is still continuing against the museum and the Port Authority. Below is Father Brian’s response, issued yesterday.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE AMERICAN ATHEISTS ASSOCIATION IN THE WORLD TRADE CENTER CROSS LITIGATION
Father Brian Jordan, OFM
Dear American Atheists Association:
On July 25, 2011, your organization sued me, a Franciscan priest, personally in order to remove the World Trade Center Cross from the National 9/11 Memorial Museum—even though I have no control over the Cross. You also sued the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus—a church on the Upper West Side, which had absolutely nothing to do with the WTC Cross. Your decision to sue me and my church should be a stark warning to every U.S. citizen who believes in the First Amendment.
I have one question for you: Why would you sue a religious minister for performing his or her religious freedom? Your lawsuit against had no basis.
On September 11, 2001, the faith of the rescue workers became inextricably intertwined with the twisted wreckage and history of the World Trade Center. On the days following 9/11, I ministered to firefighters, police officers, sandhogs, EMTs, construction workers,volunteers and impromptu rescuers from all walks and faiths. Out of the wreckage came the WTC Cross—a portion of the steel beams found by construction workers and identified by them as a symbol of hope and faith. The WTC Cross has become a sign of comfort and consolation for many who lost loved ones on that fateful day. The WTC Cross is part of that history and always will be.
On July 23, 2011—two days before you sued me—I blessed the WTC Cross in Zuccotti Park. I did invoke Jesus Christ as my savior, but I also prayed in the name of the one God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I also recognized other faiths including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shintoism. God help us indeed if a priest can be sued for conducting an interfaith prayer in a public park in the United States of America.
You contend that the First Amendment forbids inclusion in the museum of the WTC Cross—an integral part of history from the 9/11 attacks. However misguided your claim is, you must certainly know that the First Amendment protects my freedom of speech. Although you’ve just recently dropped your suit against me, it was frivolous from the outset. All I have done—according to your own complaint—is publicly bless the WTC Cross.
The First Amendment protects my right to speak in public, just as it does yours. The First Amendment also protects my right to bless any object inside or outside a house of worship. No religious leader—whether a priest, rabbi, imam, or any other minister—should have to fear litigation from your organization simply for the free exercise of one’s ministerial duties.
At the Cross’s blessing, I also distributed the Decalogue of Assisi for Peace—a powerful, interfaith statement by 250 world religious leaders of all different faiths. In January 2002, in response to the 9/11 attacks, Pope John Paul II convened the special summit of religious leaders in Assisi, Italy. These world religious leaders prayed and deliberated over religion and violence in the world. The Vatican published the results of the interfaith dialogue ten years ago, on Feb. 24, 2002, and distributed it to every head of state. The first point of the Decalogue inspires the faithful to reject violence and war:
We commit ourselves to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion, and as we condemn every recourse to violence and war in the name of God or religion, we commit ourselves in doing everything possible to eliminate the root causes of terrorism.
Five months ago, we observed the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11. With the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Decalogue, I invite all, including your members, to read the Decalogue and consider all the good that God does for us on this blessed Earth. The Decalogue promotes conversation and peacemaking among all people and all faiths.
I sincerely hope that someday we can have a face-to-face dialogue in the spirit of Franciscan peacemaking. The founder of my religious order, St. Francis of Assisi, constantly emphasized peace and harmony among all nations and religions. We Franciscans much prefer reconciliation over litigation any day.
When I blessed the World Trade Center Cross, I was following in St. Francis’s footsteps. I was also exercising my First Amendment right that our Constitution has long protected. I pray that you recognize this before you subject another religious leader to the anguish of unwarranted litigation over conducting a prayer in public.
Yours in Christ,
Father Brian Jordan, OFM