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Rise of Freedom: Ground Zero Cross Battle Prevents History Being Told

I wanted this piece to be a simple story about the history of what is called the Ground Zero cross. But now I need to write about a lawsuit that claims including a cross at the National 9/11 Museum is a "mingling of church and state" and shouldn’t be there.

I wanted to write about how the cross is believed to be part of Tower One and that it was found in the rubble of 6 World Trade Center. You can see it, above, in the picture.

I wanted to write about how it didn’t go into storage when the rebuilding began. Instead it found a temporary home outside St. Peter’s Church just a block from the Ground Zero.

I would have included a quote from Father Kevin Madigan of St. Peter’s Church. When I interviewed him he said some wonderful things. He remembered seeing people from all over the world lay wreaths or flowers or said prayers at the cross. But his observations weren’t all religious.

Father Madigan witnessed lower Manhattan change in an instant, and now he is seeing life return. As he put it, on weekends it was a “ghost town.” He says it is all different now; children and young families are everywhere. He proudly told me that this year his church held its 1st first communion in 50 years.

According to a 2010 survey by the Alliance for Downtown New York, “More than 25,000 people lived Downtown on September 11, 2001. The population grew to 44,700 people in 2007. And currently an estimated 55,000 people – a 14 percent jump from three years ago – live south of Chambers Street, more than double the population pre-9/11.”

My plan was to write about the facts. What it was like to wake up at 4 am this past Saturday so my crew and I could be there when the cross was moved to its permanent home at the National 9/11 Museum. I like to get up early, it’s not easy, but seeing the dawn makes me feel like I’ve stolen time.

I wanted to write about seeing Father Brian Jordan bless the cross, like he had in October of 2001. The fact is this piece of steel brought comfort to many who worked “The Pile.” That’s what they called the debris left after the towers collapsed. Perhaps they were Christians, I don’t know. All I know is that they said it gave them comfort.

I didn’t ask about their religion. I just wanted to know what the cross meant to them.

I wanted to write about the men and women building the new World Trade Center. They work on weekends, and this Saturday many stopped to witness a part of the blessing.

They weren’t alone. Tourists from Italy, Germany and Japan wandered upon this blessing. They stopped and took pictures of this moment in time.

I hoped to write about the care taken with this piece of steel as it was driven off and then lifted and lowered into the National 9/11 Museum. I thought it might be good to note that the museum will open next year and that other artifacts will include a fire truck destroyed on 9/11, a piece of steel with a bible fused to it, a part of the antenna from the North Tower and Stars of David cut from World Trade Center Steel.

But what I wanted isn’t going to happen because a lawsuit over the separation of church and state was filed.

"The WTC cross has become a Christian icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn't be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross," said Dave Silverman of American Atheists. He went on to add, "It's a truly ridiculous assertion."

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not religious. I don’t attend church. It’s a long story, but here is the short explanation. Irish Catholic mother and a Protestant father get married in England. It was 1968. In 1971 I was born during what are called “The Troubles.” Perhaps you have heard the U-2 song about Bloody Sunday. I had just turned 1 year-old when it happened. Simply put, in Northern Ireland Catholics and Protestants were at war. By 1974 this conflict had claimed at least 1,000 lives.

My parents left me to find God on my own, I’m enjoying the search. God or not I am grateful for the life I have and every moment, good and bad, in it. But I’ll be honest, the bad is worse than the good.

I write all that, because I want you to know I do have a dog in this fight, and it’s the truth.

What I find ridiculous is the idea that a museum can’t document history. The cross was there, and people felt how they did about it. No one gets to tell them otherwise and people will decide what they think about that in years to come when they visit the museum.

French philosopher Voltaire said, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it." I agree and I wouldn’t for a second suggest Dave Silverman and those that agree with him aren’t entitled to make their case.

This is when I wanted to write about the plaque on the cross. But instead I need to tell you that the 9/11 Museum and Memorial is a private nonprofit organization. It sits on land controlled by the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., read that as the government or “state.”

Like many museums and artistic undertakings they have receive federal and state funding. But the majority of their funds have come from private donations. At present they have gotten over $400 million from over 500,000 donors. Donations have come from every state in America, and at least 39 countries.

Here is what Joe Daniels, the head of the memorial and museum, had to say, “The mission of the National September 11 Memorial Museum is to tell the history of 9/11 through historic artifacts like the World Trade Center Cross. This steel remnant became a symbol of spiritual comfort for the thousands of recovery workers who toiled at ground zero, as well as for people around the world. In the historical exhibition, the Cross is part of our commitment to bring back the authentic physical reminders that tell the story of 9/11 in a way nothing else can.”

I don’t know where that leaves this on legal grounds and I’m not calling a lawyer to ask because I wanted to write about Father Madigan and how he was enveloped in dust cloud when the South Tower collapsed.

How he witnessed the horror of that day and how recently he found a moment of joy when he saw a chalk hopscotch court on the side walk, as he put it, "Out of this whole tragedy there's been a kind of resurgence; [Lower Manhattan] has become a place of life and renewal."

And there is a cross there to or some steel people say looks like one. You decide.

Martin Hinton is a senior producer at Fox News who, for the past 14 months, has been chronicling the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site for the Fox Report series titled, Rise of Freedom.

To see the latest segment in the Rise of Freedom series tune into Fox Report with Shepard Smith, tonight, at 7pm EDT. To learn even more about the work and progress you can also visit the official World Trade Center site, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey's site and the National 911 Memorial site.

 

Martin Hinton is a Senior Producer in Program Development at Fox News. The documentary that inspired this piece airs this weekend on Fox News.  “Your Secret's Out!” airs Saturday night at 10 pm ET and Sunday at 9 pm ET.  The piece above is an opinion, just a thought Martin was willing to share.  He is grateful for that freedom.