NEW YORK — A court of appeals has unanimously ruled that a steel beam cross displayed at a museum remembering the September 11th attacks does not violate the U.S. Constitution, despite assertions otherwise 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 2013, 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, which unanimously agreed with Batts on Monday, stating that the cross may continue to be displayed at the museum.
“[The] stated purpose of displaying The Cross at Ground Zero to tell the story of how some people used faith to cope with the tragedy is genuine, and an objective observer would understand the purpose of the display to be secular,” U.S. Circuit Judge Reena Raggi, nominated by then-President George W. Bush, wrote on behalf of the panel. “Further, the museum’s ‘Finding Meaning’ exhibition respectfully reports that people employed a variety of nonreligious, as well as religious, means to cope with the September 11 attacks.”
“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 continued. “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 community.”
“Faith won over atheism,” Frank Silecchia, an ironworker who discovered the cross in the rubble told the New York Daily News after learning of the ruling. “All I can do is thank God for answering my prayer.”
It is not yet known whether American Atheists will appeal.