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When workers were cleaning up after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, they found a steel girder that had been sheared on both sides to form a cross.

The 9/11 cross as discovered in the ruins of the World Trade

As America cheered, workers raised the cross-shaped steel beam in the midst of the rubble as a symbol of hope.

Now an atheist group is suing to keep the historic cross — which has enormous meaning to millions of Americans –from being included in the memorial being built on the site of the fallen World Trade Center, saying it violates the separation of church and state.

According to a new Rasmussen poll, 72 percent of Americans disagree, saying the cross should be included in the memorial on the Twin Towers site. Only 10 percent oppose the cross. Seventeen percent are undecided.

That pretty much reflects the face of America — with different surveys reporting that between 75 and 85 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians while only a tiny but very activist and votal minority is atheist.

Beliefnet columnist Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says the center will file an amicus brief in support of the cross display.

U.S. Congressman Randy Forbes has called the atheists’ legal efforts “sad and misguided.”

The survey asked 1,000 adults to share their opinion about the tiny group of atheists suing to keep the steel cross. The majority of survey participants, 68 percent, believe the U.S. Constitution calls for the separation of church and state. Yet, 72 percent of respondents say they are in favor of having the cross included in the World Trade Center memorial – a result that indicates Americans see no church-state violation with the 9/11 cross, according to Rasmussen.

The American Atheists filed a lawsuit last week seeking to have the cross removed from the memorial, saying it “constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on governmental land” and is “repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.”

The cross as it now stands near Ground Zero

The lawsuit names the museum, New York, New Jersey, as well as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as defendants. Bloomberg, responding to the lawsuit in a recent radio address, said American Atheists have a constitutional right to sue but that those who found strength and hope in the makeshift cross also have a right to apply importance to the Christian symbol.

“This influenced people. It gave them strength,” Bloomberg said last Friday. “In a museum, you want to show things that impacted people’s behavior back then even if you don’t think it was right. It’s history. Museums are for history and to teach people by example, well this is what people did back then and you are free to make your own decision.”

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