Court Won't Resurrect Atheists' 'Ground Zero Cross' Lawsuit

By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 29, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The "Ground Zero cross" gleaned from the wreckage of the World Trade Center can remain at the 9/11 memorial site despite concerns about church-state division.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2013 ruling allowing the steel-reinforced cross to stay at Ground Zero, finding that despite its likeness to the Christian symbol, its purpose is secular, reports Reuters. An atheist group has been fighting the inclusion of the "cross" as a publicly funded religious symbol in state and federal courts.

Is the Ground Zero "miracle cross" here to stay?

'Cross' is Secular, Court Finds

Back when we last blogged about this story, we noted that the attorney for the group called American Atheists said the 17-foot-tall piece of intersecting steel bars "screams Christianity." But in upholding the dismissal of the "Ground Zero cross" lawsuit, the 2nd Circuit disagreed, noting that the piece of fused metal had a "secular purpose."

For government-approved displays like the Ground Zero cross to pass constitutional muster under the Establishment Clause, they must have a secular purpose. The 2nd Circuit opined that "secular" doesn't have to mean completely divorced from religion, especially given the interweaving of religious themes in many historical artifacts. Along this line of reasoning, the Ground Zero cross may incidentally be a religious symbol, but its actual purpose in being displayed is to "recount[] the history of extraordinary events."

Don't buy that? Well chew on this: The U.S. Supreme Court seems to think that legislative prayers are secular too, as long as they are open to those of any faith. The Ground Zero cross may serve the same secular purpose, inviting all to come and reflect on a shared national history.

Critics might say that this view ignores the religious blindness that conflates Christian symbolism and mores with secular humanism, but others might tell you to fuggetaboutit.

No Separate Atheist Plaque

The 2nd Circuit also rejected an attempt to include a separate plaque reminding viewers of the "cross" of those atheists who died in the 9/11 terror attacks. The court felt that the display was constitutional without the plaque, and that viewers would not take this as a slight to the atheists who were killed.

Perhaps David Silverman, president of American Atheists, feels somewhat slighted. The New York Daily News reports that Silverman views the 2nd Circuit's decision as a prime example "of Christian privilege and prejudice in this country."

There is no report yet of a potential appeal to the Supreme Court.

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