In New York City, the Twin Towers were constructed with steel crossbeams, and after the towers fell, thousands of the beams were seen in the rubble. One Christian rescue workerselected a crossbeam and attached religious symbolism to it. He suggested that this specific crossbeam was not scrap metal like all the others, but was a sign from heaven, “a promise from God that he is with us even in the face of terrible evil and untold suffering.”

The decorated crossbeam was seized by Father Brian Jordan, a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest, and a religious relic was invented. During the next 10 years, the 17-foot cross was moved, repaired, mounted and copied. Religious services were held in front of it at St. Paul’s Chapel. Worshippers further modified it, carving “JESUS” on the top and etching prayers on the side. The cross was labeled unique, a sign from the Christian god, not merely a crossbeam plucked from the rubble of a terrorist attack. Then the cross became profitable –purchasable through church gift shops and Web sites.

The cross was installed in the World Trade Center (WTC) Memorial in a religious ceremony in 2011 led by Father Jordan. He then consecrated the public land on which the memorial is built, and the cross was lowered in. That same year, American Atheists sued for the removal of the cross as a religious symbol or for the WTC board to approve an atheist memorial alongside to remember the nonbelievers who died on 9/11.

On March 29, 2013, Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the cross is a secular “artifact,” not an unconstitutional religious symbol. The cross is an artifact, yes, but only because it is a religious symbol. In fact, the very reason the cross has any meaning to anyone is because it is a religious symbol. Absent its religious meaning, the cross is scrap metal like all the other crossbeams in the wreckage. This undeniable fact makes the cross a religious—and only a religious—item.