Construction worker Frank Selicchia combed the wreckage of the Twin Towers two days after Sept. 11 for survivors—instead, he uncovered a cross-shaped steel beam.
The cross was then placed in a prominent location where many of the recovery efforts were centered, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told the History Channel, Catholic Mass along with other religious services would often take place there:
It became like rallying cry or a focal point for many people. I there’s all these issues about religion, but this is beyond religion. This was a significant part in the days after September 11 that kept a lot of people going.
For two years American Atheists, Inc. has been fighting for legal grounds to remove the relic from the privately operated National Sept. 11 Museum. “American Atheists v. Port Authority of New Jersey and New York” will go before a Court of Appeals Thursday.
Regardless of the fact that the piece is an authentic artifact salvaged from a memorialized day in America, the atheist group claimed the cross' presence in the museum violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause and the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
Some “residents, citizens, and taxpayers of the United States and the State of New York” were injured when they saw the cross on “either in person or on television,” according to the complaint.
The Cross is approximately 17 feet tall and towers over any other symbols in the vicinity, expressing Christian primacy.
The museum sued is not a government entity, and there is considerable question over whether taxpayer dollars even helped fund the memorial.
As the Beckett Fund pointed out:
There is no coercion: no one is forced to attend the Museum, or to view the artifact. There is not even any religious activity. The artifact “express[es] many different sentiments.” While some may find the artifact religiously significant, “it does not follow that the museum, by displaying [the artifact], intends to convey or is perceived as conveying the same ‘message.’”
The museum in no way violates the Establishment Clause by erecting a cross pulled from the aftermath of the actual tragedy. If every cross necklace, Star of David, Rosary, and religious symbol were pulled from museums across the nation historic artifacts would be outlawed by the thousand.
The court has once before ruled American Atheists’ claim moot. There should be no ground to reconsider this logical conclusion.
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