August 3, 2014

​Appeals Court: Ground Zero Cross Can Stay at 9/11 Museum

By SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY ©2014 Religion News Service

A cross-shaped beam from the wreckage of the World Trade Center can remain
on display in the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, a
three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, dismissing a
lawsuit brought by atheists.

American Atheists filed a federal suit in 2012 claiming the 17-foot display
at the museum built with a mix of public and private funds was
unconstitutional. The group said its members suffered from both physical
and emotional damages from the presence of the beamed cross, resulting in
headaches, indigestion, and mental pain.

The atheist group filed an appeal after a lower court dismissed the
lawsuit, shifting the focus from the cross to asking for an added
plaque that would say something like “atheists died, too.”

An observer would understand that the cross was also an inclusive
symbol for any persons seeking hope and comfort in the aftermath of the
9/11 attacks, federal Judge Reena Raggi wrote in the
court’s decision.

“Such an observer would not understand the effect of displaying an artifact
with such an inclusive past in a Museum devoted to the history of the September
11 attacks to be the divisive one of promoting religion over nonreligion,” she
wrote. “Nor would he think the primary effect of displaying The Cross at Ground
Zero to be conveying a message to atheists that they are somehow disfavored
‘outsiders,’ while religious believers are favored ‘insiders,’ in the political

The beam was found by rescue workers two days after the terrorist attacks
and is part of the 1,000 artifacts in a 100,000-square-foot underground
museum. American Atheists can appeal to the entire court or ask the
three-judge panel to reconsider its decision before it can file a petition with
the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We argued from the beginning that this was a flawed legal challenge
designed to re-write history and eliminate a powerful historical artifact,”
said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a
conservative legal firm that filed a brief in support of keeping the cross.
“This bizarre legal challenge from an atheist group was exposed for what it was
— a skewed legal challenge that had no merit.”