Atheists challenge display of cross-shaped beam a 9/11 museum

Atheists challenge display of cross-shaped beam the 9/11 Memorial Museum

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NEW YORK -

Atheists are challenging the inclusion of a 17-foot, cross-shaped beam in a display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, scheduled to open this spring.

An attorney for American Atheists on Thursday argued before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the "Ground Zero Cross" should not be part of a museum that is funded, in part, with public funds.

Thetwo beams, which stood atop a mound of twisted steel and crumpled concrete at the site of the World Trade Center, became asign of hope for first responders, victims' families and thousands across thenation.

Thecross was blessed and was also used for Catholic masses and other religiousservices.  Atheists say it is a religious symbol and should not be part of a museum ongovernment-leased property.

"Youcan't just have one particular icon, one particular religious piece," said Amanda Knief, Managing Director of American Atheists, "no matterhow special some people think it is and not have something for everyone."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has filed an amicus brief on behalf of cross supporters,maintains that the cross is part of history, regardless of its religiousmeaning, and therefore should be included in the museum.

"The 'Ground Zero Cross' is part of the story of how Americans dealtwith and overcame the tragedy of 9/11, and that's why its display in the museumis appropriate," said Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel with Becket Fund.

Intheir questioning of the American Atheist's attorney, the judges seemed to side with thehistoric significance of the cross.  

A ruling on the case could take at leasttwo months.

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