- (Photo: Reuters /Peter Morgan)
A conservative legal group said Tuesday it will help defend the World Trade Center cross from a legal challenge by a group of atheists seeking its removal from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
The American Center for Law and Justice said it will file a friend-to-the-court brief on behalf former 9/11 firefighter and first responder Tim Brown in support of the WTC cross, which was installed at the Ground Zero memorial Saturday.
"We will aggressively defend the placement of this cross," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said in a statement Tuesday. "This memorial, a powerful part of the history of 9-11, serves as a constitutionally-sound reminder of the horrors that occurred nearly a decade ago."
On Monday, American Atheists filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the iconic WTC cross, made up of two intersecting steel beams found intact amid the rubble of the Sept. 11 attacks. The atheist group claims that the cross is a "Christian icon" and an inappropriate "mingling of church and state."
American Atheists is asking that either the museum allow other faiths to display their own religious symbols or take down the WTC cross. The suit names the museum, Mayor Bloomberg, and New York, among others, as defendants.
Supporters of the WTC cross argue it represents more than a Christian symbol but serves as remembrance of those who died in the terrorist attacks.
Joe Daniel, president of the 9/11 Memorial, called the cross display "a symbol of the progress on the Memorial & Museum that we feel rather than see, reminding us that commemoration is at the heart of our mission."
Others have called the cross an "inspiration" and symbol of "unity" for the American people.
In his statement, Sekulow called the lawsuit "deeply flawed and without merit."
The Washington, D.C.-based lawyer also blogged about the case on the ACLJ's website Tuesday, dismissing the lawsuit’s claims that plaintiffs "continue to suffer damages, both physical and emotional, from the existence of the challenged cross."
"They are injured by the mere existence of the cross? We're talking about two intersecting steel beams that held up when the Twin Towers collapsed. Yes, it is cross-shaped. But, suffering physical and emotional damage because of the existence of the cross? Give me a break," Sekulow wrote.
"This claim is ridiculous. If someone doesn't like it, look the other way. Skip that part of the exhibit."
The ACLJ is confident that legal challenge against the WTC cross will not succeed, pointing out that court challenges by atheist organizations in the past targeting the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Motto, the National Day of Prayer have all failed. The conservative legal group filed amicus briefs in those cases.
"This is just the latest chapter of an anti-God strategy employed by atheist organizations across the country – a strategy offensive to millions of Americans, a strategy that we're confident ultimately will fail in court," said Sekulow in the statement.