A U.S. District judge has thrown out a lawsuit, brought by an atheist group that hoped to prevent the display of a cross-shaped steel beam found in the rubble at the site of the World Trade Center.
The Associated Press reports that Judge Deborah Batts, in a ruling released on Friday, rejected the arguments of American Atheists, saying that the artifact could help tell the story of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The atheists’ organization sued the National September 11 Memorial & Museum’s operators in 2011 on constitutional grounds, arguing that the display of the 17-foot-tall cross constitutes an endorsement of Christianity and thus lessens the contributions of non-Christian rescuers.
Batts wrote that the cross “helps demonstrate how those at ground zero coped with the devastation they witnessed during the rescue and recovery effort.”
Stating that the purpose of the cross was “historical and secular,” Batts observed that it will be housed at the museum in a section called “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,” with placards explaining its meaning and the reason for its inclusion in the exhibit. In addition, the cross will be surrounded by secular artifacts of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“No reasonable observer would view the artifact as endorsing Christianity,” Batts wrote. The judge said that the museum’s designers “have not advanced religion impermissibly, and the cross does not create excessive entanglement between the state and religion.”
Batts noted that American Atheists also failed to allege any form of intentional discrimination or to cite any adverse or unequal treatment on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Rescue workers discovered the cross-shaped beam two days after the terrorist attacks. Operators plan to display it along with 1,000 artifacts, photos, oral histories, and videos in an underground museum that is expected to open next year. In addition, the museum will hold the staircase used by workers to escape the towers and portraits of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks on 9/11.
Edwin F. Kagin, an attorney representing American Atheists, said that the group will appeal the judge’s ruling.
“Naturally, we don’t like the ruling and we think it’s incorrect,” Kagin said. He added that the decision was an attempt by the government “to endorse Christianity as the national religion of the United States. For anyone to think this is not a religious symbol being moved for religious reasons into the World Trade Center museum is incredible.”
Museum president Joe Daniels said he was happy 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.”