Court asks atheists for evidence of injury in 9/11 cross case

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A view of the 911 Memorial under construction at Ground Zero. Credit:

A U.S. atheist group that is suing to stop the National 9/11 Museum from displaying the ground zero cross has been ordered by a court to submit new briefs providing evidence that the cross would cause them actual injury.

“Courts should not allow people to sue just because they claim to get ‘dyspepsia’ over a historical artifact displayed in a museum,” said Eric Baxter, counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit public interest law firm.

The two-year ongoing lawsuit “claims that the anticipated display in the National September 11 Museum of a single artifact – a cross-shaped steel beam recovered from Ground Zero – is an unlawful establishment of religion,” according to a brief submitted by the Becket Fund.

American Atheists, Inc., has filed its lawsuit based on the claims that its members “have been injured by seeing the cross either in person or on television and by having religious tradition not their own imposed on them,” stated the brief.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals called June 19 for American Atheists and the museum to file new briefs, discussing whether the atheists group has actually suffered a direct injury that would justify the lawsuit.

The court ordered that, “Plaintiffs’ brief should, at a minimum, clarify both the injuries alleged and legal theories relied on to support standing.”

In its brief, the Becker Fund had argued that the cross “causes no cognizable injury” to the atheist group and “is so far removed from the concerns underlying the Establishment Clause that The Court should not hesitate to dismiss this case for lack of standing.”

“Lawsuits for violations of the Establishment Clause should be limited to circumstances where the government is truly coercing people to engage in religious activity,” stated Baxter.

He referenced the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Town of Greece v. Galloway case last month which stated, “An Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.”

Baxter suggested that it is “unusual for a court to require parties to a lawsuit to file additional briefs based on arguments raised by a non-party,” and voiced hope that this move “is a signal that the Court will draw the line against American Atheists’ frivolous attack on the Ground Zero Cross.”

“We hope the Court firmly rejects the idea that the Constitution treats religion with suspicion and instead reaffirms that it protects the role of religion in the public square,” he said.

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