(Photo: Reuters /Peter Morgan)
Oral arguments in a lawsuit by an atheist organization against the placement of the "World Trade Center cross" at a museum on government property will take place later this week.
American Atheists will present their case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, arguing that the WTC cross does not belong in a museum on government leased property.
Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, construction workers found a cross beam among the wreckage of the Twin Towers.
Measuring 17 feet tall and approximately 4,000 pounds, the piece of debris became known as the World Trade Center cross, and for many, became a symbol of hope amid despair.
When the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation completed its national 9/11 Memorial and Museum in 2011, the WTC cross was included among the items displayed.
In July 2011, American Atheists filed suit against the museum for having the WTC cross and for reportedly lacking other secular and religious images of a non-Christian nature.
The suit was filed before the New York Supreme Court, County of New York, and named among its defendants the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the 9/11 Museum, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
"The installation of the cross at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is facially violative of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America," reads the suit in part.
"The challenged cross constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion on governmental land, diminishing the civil rights, privileges or capacities of atheist Americans, agnostic Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, and all others who are not Christian Americans."
The suit garnered much attention from various individuals and groups, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the museum.
"Though the museum is a private foundation making a private decision, the American Atheists alleged that no religious symbol should ever be allowed on property leased by the government," stated the Becket Fund.
"Over and over again groups like the American Atheists have tried removing all traces of religion from the public square. Now they want to go so far as scrubbing it from our nation's history."
Last March, federal Judge Deborah Batts of the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the WTC cross, arguing that its historical importance outweighed any church-state concerns.