Helen Thomas turned 90 last week. I wonder what she thinks about the destroyed remnant of a t-joint rubble beam hoisted as a centerpiece of the World Trade Center (WTC) Memorial in New York?
Well, I hope someone asks the good lady. I have an idea what she would say about the intrusion of religion into a public event that belongs equally to all Americans, of all religions and no religions.
Here is an exchange from a line of questioning Ms. Thomas had with the president at George W. Bush's first press conference in 2002:
Helen Thomas: "Mr. President, why do you refuse to respect the wall between the church and the state? And you know that the mixing of religion and government for centuries has led to slaughter. I mean, the very fact that our country has stood in good stead by having the separation-why do you break it down?"
Pres. Bush: "Helen, I strongly respect the separation of church and state..."
Thomas: "Well, you wouldn't have a religious office in the White House if you did . . . You are a secular official. And not a missionary. Atheists pay taxes, too."
Just so. And besides paying taxes, atheists (and Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.) also died with Christians on 9/11. All died when 19 faith-based fanatics hijacked passenger planes to get to their blind dates with 72 virgins. Every one of these devout martyrs was hell-bent seeking eternal bliss. A bonus was the chance to exact a good measure of revenge against those with different ideas about religions different from theirs (i.e., "infidels").
But, the bogus Christian symbol, bogus because it is no more a sign of anything from the great beyond than the likeness of a god or goddess seen by some true believers in cookies, cloud patterns or the aftermath of tornado rubble. ("Look - the steeple remains. It's a sign from above. Praise Jesus.")
Ellery Schempp, a champion of the First Amendment who was instrumental in the protest against compulsive prayer in public schools leading to a Supreme Court ruling against the practice in 1963, stated that "public prayer is not intended to promote religious values but to enhance the authority of some churches and some political views over others. (Speech at the convention of the Freedom from Religion Foundation annual meeting, Oct. 13, 2007.)
Some, including John Steward of "The Daily Show," a prominent liberal non-Christian, believe objections to the Christian cross at ground zero are ill advised. Why make a big deal of it? "Hey, it gives people comfort. Don't make waves. Let it go."
Well, that's what many advised Ellery Schempp and his parents to do. We are better off, I believe, that he and others through the years and continuing to this day, do not think much of this advice. We are fortunate, I think, that many like Mr. Schempp take separation of church/state seriously, and are willing to make waves and discomfort the faithful who insist in trying to push their religions into our faces. To put a stop to it, we must step forward and say, "no thanks."
Staying quiet and meet, making no objection to keep the peace is certainly an option. However, it seems unwise. A lot of non-Christians suffered from 9/11 events, including believers and freethinkers who favor reason over revelation. What does a cross contribute to their thoughts and feelings about the tragedy? What if another faith group were involved, say, Islamists who also lost family and friends at the memorial site? How would the Christian cross enthusiasts feel about a crescent and star t-beam (Islam) or a Shinto beam? Actually, because Jewish people have political power in New York, a Star of David (man-made, not plucked ready made from beam rubble), has been added. Why stop there? Would it not be more appropriate to give all religions representation or, to keep things simple and clean, none at on public land using public funds? Why not represent all faiths - or none - equally?
A 9/11 memorial should be religion neutral. Let's have the focus on the event and some symbol of recovery from it, not on religion, which inspired the disaster in the first place.