American Atheists (AA) [advocacy website], a group that supports the separation of church and state, filed a lawsuit [text, PDF] Monday against the display of a cross at the World Trade Center (WTC) memorial. The cross, two intersecting beams found in the wreckage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was moved [9/11 Memorial report] to the 9/11 Memorial Museum [official website] last week from a nearby church amid communion and a blessing from a priest. AA, however, views the cross [press release] as a "Christian icon" and contends that Christianity does not deserve "preferential treatment." AA President Dave Silverman called for a more inclusive memorial display:
This cross is now a part of the official WTC memorial. No other religions or philosophies will be honored. It will just be a Christian icon, in the middle of OUR memorial. As a public accommodation, the memorial must allow us (and all other religious philosophies) to include our own display of equal size inside the museum, or not include the cross. Equality is an all-or-nothing deal.AA claims the cross violates New York law and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie [official websites] are named among the defendants.
Courts have disagreed on the constitutionality of religious displays. Most recently, a federal judge ordered [text, PDF] Florida's Dixie County Courthouse to remove [JURIST report] the Ten Commandments monument [JPG] displayed on the front steps of the courthouse because the display violated the Establishment Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] in February upheld [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling barring the Ten Commandments [JURIST report] from being displayed in an Ohio courthouse. In January, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously that California's Mount Soledad cross, a 43-foot cross erected as a Korean War veterans' memorial, is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit in June 2010 upheld an injunction [JURIST report] against Ten Commandment displays in two Kentucky courthouses, finding that the displays represented simply another strategy "in a long line of attempts" to comply with the Constitution for litigation purposes and did not "minimize the residue of religious purpose." A month earlier, the same court denied an en banc rehearing in another case [opinion, PDF] involving the display of the Ten Commandments in a Grayson County, Kentucky, courthouse. The court found the display to be constitutional because it presented a valid secular purpose from the outset. Highway memorial crosses and crosses on license plates [JURIST reports] have also been found unconstitutional by federal courts.