At the center of growing controversy surrounding exhibits proposed for display at the National September 11th Memorial Museum is a 17-foot-tall steel remnant that, in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, protruded from the debris in the form of a cross. American Atheists (AA) filed a lawsuit against the public display of the cross in 2011, arguing that it was “offensive.” Though the case was initially thrown out, an appeals court has decided to hear the suit after the Museum debuted the “Ground Zero Cross” at its May opening. AA has been given until July 14 to supply additional information to the court to assist it in determining whether or not it will proceed with the case.
06/21/2014 United States (FoxNews) – A federal appeals court said this week that an atheist group trying to keep the so-called Ground Zero Cross out of the National September 11 Memorial Museum must better explain how displaying the artifact is “offensive” and violates members’ constitutional rights.AA has been given until July 14 to supply additional information to the court to assist it in determining whether or not it will proceed with the case.
The 17-foot-tall, steel beam “cross” was found in the rubble of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York that fell during the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The cross became a sort of shrine or place of comfort for first responders who often prayed there and left messages or flowers. It was moved away from the debris a few weeks later and became a tourist attraction through several years of reconstruction.
American Atheists filed the suit in 2011, which was thrown out last year by a federal judge in the Southern District of New York.
The appeals court ruling Thursday cites an amicus brief filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in church-state law and protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.
“We’re thrilled that the court picked up on this issue,” said group lawyer Eric Baxter, whose brief argued that American Atheists had no right to bring a lawsuit in the first place. “Courts should not allow people to sue just because they claim to get ‘dyspepsia’ over a historical artifact displayed in a museum.”
The museum officially opened on May 21.
The judge has now given the plaintiffs until July 14 to file supplemental legal briefs before deciding whether the case will proceed. Among the questions that must be answered in the new filings is how the offensiveness of the cross, which the plaintiffs view as a Christian symbol for all 9-11 victims, becomes a “constitutional injury.”