Tuesday, July 29, 2014

2nd Circuit: Cross At Ground Zero Can Stay In Museum

In American Atheists, Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, (2d Cir., July 28, 2014), the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by American Atheists to the display in the National September 11 Museum of the 17-foot high "Cross at Ground Zero"-- steel beams in the shape of a cross retrieved from the World Trade Center debris after 9-11. The court summarized its holding as follows:
1. Displaying The Cross at Ground Zero in the National September 11 Museum does not violate the Establishment Clause because:
a. 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;
b.   an objective observer would not view the display as endorsing religion generally, or Christianity specifically, because it is part of an exhibit entitled “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero”; the exhibit includes various nonreligious as well as religious artifacts that people at Ground Zero used for solace; and the textual displays accompanying the cross communicate its historical significance within this larger context; and
c.   there is no evidence that the static display of this genuine historic artifact excessively entangles the government with religion.
2. In the absence of any Establishment Clause violation or any evidence of discriminatory animus toward atheists, the Museum did not deny equal protection by displaying The Cross at Ground Zero and refusing plaintiffs’ request to fund an accompanying symbol commemorating atheists.
CNN reported on the decision.