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Assault on Free Expression at the World Trade Center

Chronology of events

Fall 2001 - The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) was created by Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani using federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The LMDC was "charged with helping to rebuild and revitalize Manhattan below Houston Street."1

April 9, 2002 - The LMDC released its first "Principles for Action and Preliminary Blueprint for the Future of Lower Manhattan," which stated that decisions would be "based on an inclusive and open public process."2

February 27, 2003 - After a competition among various design firms, LMDC announced that it had selected "Memory Foundations" submitted by Studio Daniel Libeskind to be the guiding design plan behind the redevelopment of the World Trade Center (WTC) site. The Libeskind design incorporated, among other things, cultural facilities, in an effort to create a space that would reaffirm "life in the aftermath of tragedy."3

April 2003 - June 2003 - In response to public comments and statements at public meetings, LMDC decided that the WTC site should indeed have a cultural element. Accordingly, in April 2003, Governor Pataki announced a plan to invite cultural institutions across the world to submit proposals, and in June 2003, LMDC issued a formal Invitation to Cultural Institutions (ICI). In the next few months, LMDC opened the process up to public debate, devoting its July 28, 2003 public forum to the discussion of the cultural facilities. By September 2003, 113 institutions had submitted proposals, and the selection process officially began in October 2003. By February 2004, LMDC released an interim report on the selection process,4 putting forth a short-list of institutions being heavily considered.5

June 10, 2004 - The International Freedom Center (IFC) was chosen by the LMDC, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts at the conclusion of the Invitation to Cultural Institutions (ICI) process.6 The other organizations chosen were the Joyce Theater Foundation, the Signature Theater Company, and the Drawing Center.

The International Freedom Center (IFC) is a "a new organization created expressly for the World Trade Center Site that will include exhibitions centered on humankind's enduring quest for freedom."7 The Center has three major components: 1) museum exhibition spaces, which will "explore crucial themes in the history of freedom"; 2) an educational and cultural center, which will sponsor various events meant to initiate "conversation on freedom in our world today"; and 3) a service and civic engagement network, which will provide visitors with the ability to engage in freedom-serving activities in their own communities.8

July 8, 2004 - The LMDC Board approved the selections and decided to offer planning grants to all four institutions.9

June 8, 2005 - The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Debra Burlingame, a member of the board of directors of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation,10 and the sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III who was the pilot of American Airlines flight 77 that crashed on 9/11. In the article, "The Great Ground Zero Heist," Burlingame blasted the IFC for having a board that included civil rights and civil liberties advocates. She wrote that visitors to the World Trade Center memorial site will "get a memorial that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the yearning to return to that day. Rather than a respectful tribute to our individual and collective loss, they will get a slanted history lesson, a didactic lecture on the meaning of liberty in a post-9/11 world."11

June 2005 - Debra Burlingame's article served as a catalyst for the creation of the "Campaign America" resolution. The resolution, which supporters are trying to have passed in various municipalities, says: "The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation should fulfill its mission by ensuring no facilities that house controversial debate, dialogue, artistic impressions, or exhibits referring to extraneous historical events occupy space on the sacred site at Ground Zero."12 In addition to the resolution, individuals who oppose the IFC's presence at the WTC site created the website and an online petition, which states, "Political discussions have no place at the World Trade Center September 11 memorial, and the International Freedom Center honors no one by making excuses for the perpetrators of this heinous crime."13

June 20, 2005 - About 200 relatives of 9/11 victims gathered at Ground Zero to protest the inclusion of the Drawing Center and the IFC at the WTC site.14

June 24, 2005 - In response to a Daily News article that accused the Drawing Center of criticizing Bush Administration foreign policy and "displaying graphic and vulgar art attacking America's war on terror," Governor Pataki demanded guarantees from all cultural institutions regarding the content they intend to display at the WTC site. Pataki told the LMDC to "contact the cultural institutions on the memorial site . . . and get from them an absolute guarantee that as they proceed, it will be with total respect for the sanctity of that site." He announced that all cultural institutions must now guarantee that their exhibits will not offend 9/11 families or others who visit the site. He said: "We will not tolerate anything on that site that denigrates America" or "denigrates New York or freedom."15

July 1, 2005 - Three Republican state legislators wrote a letter to the LMDC, stating that Congress would "intervene if officials in charge of redeveloping Ground Zero don't limit the memorial there to the events of 9/11."16

July 6, 2005 - The Chairman of the IFC, Tom Bernstein, vowed that "his institution would never 'blame America or attack the champions of freedom.'" His statement was in response to Governor Pataki's demand for absolute guarantees from all cultural institutions that their exhibits would not offend 9/11 families or "denigrate America."17

July 13, 2005 - The Daily News reported that due to the controversy over the cultural centers at Ground Zero, fundraising efforts for the WTC memorial have suffered. LMDC Chairman John C. Whitehead stated that "some donors 'read about confusion and dissension in the press'" and have thus refrained from donating until the situation is settled.18

August 11, 2005 - The LMDC announced at its monthly board meeting that the Drawing Center would most likely be giving up its assigned space at Ground Zero and looking for a new location19 because, according to LMDC Chairman John C. Whitehead, the Center was "finding it difficult to comply with the requirements that have been laid down that they would never present anything that might be offensive to the families" of 9/11 victims."20 In that same statement, Whitehead announced that the International Freedom Center "has until September 23 to submit its 'specific plans, program and governing structure' for further review."21 The "requirements" Whitehead mentioned seem to refer to Pataki's statement on June 24 regarding the need for all cultural exhibits at WTC to give "an absolute guarantee" that their exhibits will not offend 9/11 families or "denigrate" America.22

After Whitehead's statement, Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff made the following comment at LMDC's monthly board meeting regarding the corporation's decision: "To reach this conclusion without a significant amount - particularly within this body - of debate and public comment leading up to the debate is disappointing."23

August 12, 2005 - A New York Times article included the following statement by Mayor Michael Bloomberg regarding his and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's position on the LMDC's decision to subject the IFC to a new round of vetting: "We decided to have cultural institutions and picked these cultural institutions through a deliberative process that tried to involve all parts of the community with all different kinds of input. ... Dan and I both think that the L.M.D.C. erred in trying to change that without going through another inclusive process.'" 24

August 16, 2005 - The union representing the city's firefighters announced it would be withdrawing its support of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation because it objects to the presence of the IFC and the Drawing Center at the WTC site.25

Mid-August 2005 - By mid-August, over 40,000 individuals had signed the petition on, and three municipalities had passed the Campaign America resolution: Anthony, KS; Village of Washingtonville, NY; and Village of Westbury, NY.

August 21, 2005 - The Daily News reported that the IFC had been advised by the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience that it should "'not feature America first'" and that it should "'think internationally, where America is one of the many nations of the world.'" The Coalition is made up of 14 museums in nine countries that "chronicle apartheid in South Africa, slavery in Senegal, torture in Argentina, racism in the South and internment of Japanese-Americans in California, along with other historical horrors." The IFC's President, Richard Tofel, responded to accusations that the Coalition's advice proved that the Center's focus would be anti-American by saying, "'We have many, many advisers who have given us lots of advice. ... Some of it we've taken and some of it we haven't - that's the nature of advice.'" Tofel also said that the IFC's vision was mostly inspired by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Illinois.26

August - September 2005 - The IFC will undergo a new round of vetting by members of the families of 9/11 victims and others. A decision will be made by September 23rd as to whether the IFC will be permitted to occupy a space at the WTC site.27

September 22, 2005 - The New York Post reported that the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association wrote a letter to the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, expressing its opposition to the IFC. The letter stated: "The World Trade Center is not a place for domestic or international politics. … It is not a place for inappropriate art or entertainment and programming which trivializes or ignores the history of the site."28

September 23, 2005- The IFC submitted its report, detailing its plans for the WTC site.29 The report states that the IFC would include the following elements: an exhibit dedicated to highlighting the international response to and outpouring of sympathy after 9/11; a film exploring the links between those who died on 9/11 and the ongoing struggle for freedom; a tribute to great documents of freedom including the Magna Carta and others; exhibits highlighting the men and women who have fought for freedom over the course of history; and the Freedom Walk, a grand concourse meant to serve as a physical and emotional journey through the history of freedom and hope.

The LMDC responded by posting the report on its site and asking for electronic public comments. It also announced it would hold three forums with various constituency groups (with one forum dedicated to 9/11 family members) at which the IFC would be forced to defend its proposal.30

September 24, 2005 - Senator Hillary Clinton announced that she could not support the IFC because she was "troubled by the serious concerns that family members and first responders" had expressed to her. Senator Schumer also voiced concern but unlike Clinton, he called for compromise instead of outright opposing the IFC.31

September 25, 2005 - Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani publicly stated that he thought the inclusion of IFC at Ground Zero would be a "mistake." He added, "They should change the whole concept and scrap those plans and start from the beginning and focus it on Sept. 11."32

September 28, 2005 - Governor Pataki officially and unilaterally ousted the IFC from Ground Zero, stating, "'There remains too much opposition, too much controversy over the programming of the I.F.C.'" Pataki instructed the LMDC to assist the IFC in finding a new location. But IFC representatives responded that there was no reason to look for another location because the memorial quadrant at Ground Zero was "the site for which the I.F.C. was created, at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's request, and as an integral part of Daniel Libeskind's master site plan. … We consider our work, therefore, to have been brought to an end." Mayor Bloomberg also issued a statement of disappointment "that we were not able to find a way to reconcile the freedoms we hold so dear with the sanctity of the site."33


1. From the "Rebuilding Timeline" page on LMDC's website, (last visited 8/25/05).

2. Id.

3. Id.

4. Report available at: (last visited 8/25/05).

5. (last visited 8/25/05).

6. From the "FAQ" page on IFC's website, (last visited 8/18/05).

7. (last visited 8/25/05).

8. From IFC Fact Sheet, (last visited 8/25/05).

9. (last visited 8/25/05).

10. The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation is a non-profit corporation created to honor the men and women who died in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks and to promote the cultural and economic vitality of Lower Manhattan. According to its website: "The core mission of the Foundation is to develop and coordinate a large-scale international fundraising campaign to generate funds for the construction, operation and maintenance of the World Trade Center Memorial and Memorial Center, as well as related educational programs and commemorative activities. The Foundation will also help raise funds for the benefit of the cultural institutions located on the World Trade Center site." The Board of Directors of the Foundation includes family members of 9/11 victims, private citizens, executives of major New York-based institutions, political figures, and others. From the "About Us" page of the WTC Memorial Foundation website, (last visited 8/25/05).

11. Debra Burlingame, "The Great Ground Zero Heist: Will the 9/11 "memorial" have more about Abu Ghraib than New York's heroic firemen?" Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2005, (last visited 8/28/05).

12. The full "Campaign America" resolution is available at: (last visited 8/18/05).

13. From (last visited 8/18/05).

14. Janon Fisher, "Relatives Protest Plan for Museum at 9/11 Memorial Site," The New York Times, June 21, 2005, . Section B, Pg. 4.

15. Joe Mahoney and Douglas Feiden. "Zero Tolerance at WTC, No US-bashing at site, Pataki sez," Daily News, June 25, 2005, 7; Patrick Healy, "Pataki Warns Cultural Groups For Museum at Ground Zero," New York Times, June 25, 2005.

16. William Murphy, "Keeping focus on memorial; NY representatives say Congress will act if Ground Zero project will include exhibits not related to 9/11," Newsday, July 2, 2005, A12.

17. Douglas Feiden, "WTC Museum Not Anti-US, Boss Vows," Daily News, July 7, 2005, 5.

18. Paul Colford, "Memorial Donations Lagging - WTC Big," Daily News, July 13, 2005, 22.

19. The Drawing Center has not made a statement confirming its withdrawal from the WTC site. The Center’s website also has no information regarding its current status. According to a New York Times article, “Frances Beatty Adler, the chairwoman of the Drawing Center, a museum in SoHo, acknowledged that it was looking at alternative locations in Lower Manhattan. She added that ‘no one has said that we're not in the Snohetta building’ and said the center was ‘working cooperatively with the L.M.D.C. to restore cultural life downtown’” (David Dunlap, “Freedom Center’s Place at Ground Zero in Question,” The New York Times, August 12, 2005, (last visited 8/18/05)). However, according to the Daily News, the Drawing Center had indeed pulled out and was definitely looking to move elsewhere (Paul Colford, “Drawing Center Out! Goldman in at WTC?” Daily News, August 12, 2005, 14). While these reports are not entirely consistent, Whitehead’s statements seem to imply that the Drawing Center will in fact be giving up its space at the WTC site.

20. Id.

21. Colford, Daily News, August 12, 2005, 14.

22. According to LMDC's Communications Department, there are no publicly available documents outlining the requirements IFC would be subject to in the new round of inquiry. Neema Trivedi telephone conversation with a representative of LMDC's Communications Department, August 29, 2005.

23. Dunlap, New York Times, August 12, 2005.

24. Id.

25. Tom Topousis, “FDNY Fires on Freedom Center Plan,” The New York Post, August 17, 2005, Http:// (last visited 8/29/05).

26. Douglas Feiden, "Another Insult to America's Heritage at Freedom Center," Daily News, August 21, 2005, 6.

27. Dunlap, New York Times, August 12, 2005, 28.

28. Tom Topousis and Ian Bishop, "Police Union Wants Freedom Ctr. Busted," The New York Post, September 22, 2005, 2.

29. The full report submitted by the IFC can be found on the IFC website, available at: (last visited 9/29/05).

30. From the LMDC website, However, when last visited (9/29/05), the web page detailing the process (forums, public comments, and other IFC-related news) was no longer on the site.

31. Deborah Orin, "Hill No! Nixes 9/11 Freedom Ctr," The New York Post, September 25, 2005, 1.

32. Jennie Leszkiewicz, Frederic U. Dicker and Leonard Greene, "Rudy's Thumb Down - WTC Museum Foe," The New York Post, September 26, 2005, 13.

33. The full statement issued by the IFC on September 28, 2005, can be found on the IFC website, available at: (last visited 9/29/05).


The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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