Manhattan, New York — A federal judge appointed by former president Bill Clinton has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a national atheist organization that sought to remove a steel beam cross from the 9/11 Museum in New York City because it promoted Christianity.
As previously reported, the group American Atheists stated that the cross, which was found in the rubble following the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, has caused individuals to suffer “depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish,” and even indigestion. It had filed suit against numerous responsible parties, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“This shrine is a cross. It was picked up, trimmed, polished, the word ‘Jesus’ was carved on top of it, it was prayed over in front of a church for five years, and then it was installed in the WTC memorial with no warning by a priest in a religious service where in the ground was consecrated,” stated David Silverman, the president of the organization. “This is a working Christian shrine in the memorial, and then they had the gall to say it’s not religious in nature, that it represents everybody. That’s not true. It does not represent Jews, Muslims, Mormons or atheists, and they all had deaths on 9/11.”
He also claimed that the cross was problematic because it was stationed on public land.
Attorneys for the museum filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last August, and have been waiting on an answer from the court ever since. Area residents who supported the display stated that they were upset by the legal challenge.
“I’m angry that we are being forced to defend this,” 9/11 survivor Joe O’Connor told reporters. “It was very important to the people who were down there at the time.”
“They’re trying to [take away symbols of hope] a little at a time with these frivolous lawsuits,” he said. “Our country needs to stand tall. It’s so much easier to destroy than to create things.”
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts, appointed by Bill Clinton, rejected the arguments of American Atheists regarding its belief that “the government enshrinement of the cross” excluded non-Christians from being recognized in the tragedy. She dismissed the group’s lawsuit, stating that the cross served both a “historic and secular purpose.”
“No reasonable observer would view the artifact as endorsing Christianity,” Batts wrote. “[The museum curators] have not advanced religion impermissibly, and the cross does not create excessive entanglement between the state and religion.”
American Atheists says it is disappointed in the outcome.
“We are angry that we have to have this fight,” Silverman told CNN. “We will not sit and let the 500 atheists who died on 9/11 go unnoticed.”
He plans on filing an appeal in the case.
Museum curators state that they are elated with Batts’ ruling.
“[I am thankful that the court] agrees that the display of the World Trade Center Cross is not a constitutional violation but is in fact a crucial part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s mission of preserving the true history of 9/11,” president Joe Daniels told reporters.
“The museum is gratified by the decision,” added attorney Mark Alcott. “The plan has been to display this as one of hundreds and hundreds of artifacts … because it is part of the history of the recovery efforts after the 911 attacks.”
“For some of these people, [the cross indeed] had symbolic significance,” he acknowledged, referring to the first responders on the scene. “They treated it as a religious object and it gave them a great deal of comfort at a difficult time. The 9/11 museum is simply depicting what happened.”