WASHINGTON — A nationally-recognized Christian legal organization has submitted an amicus brief on behalf of over 230,000 Americans who have expressed support of a steel beam cross that is under fire from a prominent atheist group.
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 and is on display at the 9/11 museum in New York City, 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.
In March of this year, 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.”
But American Atheists appealed the ruling to to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where it will now be considered by a three-judge panel.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed an amicus brief on Friday in support of the cross on behalf of over 230,000 Americans who are a part of the Committee to Protect the Ground Zero Cross. The ACLJ argued that the beam is historical, and must not be removed simply because it denotes a reference to Christianity.
“[H]istorical artifacts—even religious artifacts—have long been placed in America’s public museums without doing violence to the Constitution,” the brief states. “Any ruling to the contrary would lead to absurd results.”
“Offended observers (even observers whose offense is so great that they claim physical illness) cannot be permitted to rewrite history or constitutional precedent,” it continues. “Acknowledging history does not establish a religion, and Plaintiffs-Appellants’ lawsuit is without merit.”
ACLJ President Jay Sekulow stated in a news release announcing the brief that American Atheists misunderstands the meaning of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
“This flawed legal challenge represents a dangerous and unprecedented attempt to literally rewrite history and cleanse the record of a historically significant artifact,” he said. “A museum has the freedom to display religiously-themed artifacts of historical or artistic significance without running afoul of the Constitution. We urge the appeals court to affirm the decision of the district court which rejected this bizarre legal challenge.”