An embarrassing lawsuit
Susan Jacoby has a great article in The Washington Post about American Atheists‘ legal action opposing the inclusion in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum of a cross-shaped steel beam that was found among the ruins of the World Trade Center.
From Jacoby’s article:
But American Atheists, a New Jersey-based group with an unerring nose for for the scent of publicity…
Yes indeed. American Atheists are our Catholic League. Their publicity stunts are embarrassing.
Yes, it would be a violation of the establishment clause if the battered cross-shaped object were displayed at the entrance as the museum’s official symbol. And I’d be the first to go to court to get it removed. But there is no evidence that the museum intends this piece, when the building opens, to be anything but one exhibit in a large collection that will include many other objects belonging to the history of that day and its aftermath. It is now being installed in an underground section of the future museum.
If their case does go to trial, their lawyers will have to prove that the cross’s placement violates the “endorsement test“:
[A] government action is invalid if it creates a perception in the mind of a reasonable observer that the government is either endorsing or disapproving of religion.
(Although the endorsement test is often considered to be a subset or a fourth “prong” of the “Lemon test“, the Lemon test really isn’t relevant in this case, as the Lemon test focuses primarily on legislation, not general governmental action.)
Like Jacoby says, the cross isn’t going to be displayed in a manner or place that will indicate governmental endorsement of Christianity. As such, I think that American Atheists are going to have a difficult time proving that the cross’s placement violates the endorsement test (and, by extension, the Establishment Clause).
This lawsuit is both frivolous and almost certainly doomed to fail.
James Croft has written a fantastic and informative post about this lawsuit. In the latest update to his post, he writes that:
I’ve just received confirmation from a 9/11 Memorial Representative that “The World Trade Center Cross will be part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, opening in September 2012. It will be displayed in the historical exhibition.”
I hope this clears up the issue for everybody – the cross is not in the memorial gardens, as American Atheists, Inc. have repeatedly claimed on their Facebook page, but is an exhibit in the museum, as I have contended from the start.
I’m quite curious to hear American Atheists’ response to all of the evidence that James has tracked down (assuming they don’t just willfully ignore it, that is).