Howard Friedman, Religion Clause
In American Atheists, Inc. v. Port Authority of NY and NJ, (SD NY, March 28, 2013), a New York federal district court rejected constitutional challenges to the inclusion of the World Trade Center Cross—two beams that survived the collapse of the World Trade Center—as part of the National September 11 Museum in lower Manhattan. While finding that the decision by the World Trade Center Foundation to include the 17-foot tall cross as part of the displays amounted to state action, the court nevertheless held that the decision does not violate the federal Establishment Clause or Equal Protection Clause, nor does it violate parallel provisions of the New York or New Jersey Constitutions or state anti-discrimination laws. In rejecting the Establishment Clause challenge, the court said in part:
Because a reasonable observer would be aware of the history and context of the cross and the Museum — especially given that the cross will be housed in the “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero” section, accompanied by placards explaining its meaning and the reason for its inclusion, and surrounded by secular artifacts — no reasonable observer would view the artifact as endorsing Christianity.
In a press release following the decision, American Atheists said: “We will appeal. We’re fighting it. This is not dead. This is a place where religion destroyed American lives.” CNN reports on the decision.