American Atheists v. Port Authority

Introduction

Two days after the attack, construction workers found a steel girder intersection approximately 10 feet across and 17 feet high and weighing 4,000 pounds amongst the rubble. By October 2001, the Franciscan (Catholic) priest Brian Jordan came and ‘blessed’ this piece of building debris and began holding religious services at the site.

World Trade Center "cross"In 2006, the girder cross was removed to St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church on 22 Barclay Street, in Manhattan. While there, the girder set was further modified and trimmed to look more like the Latin cross of Christian tradition. 

In 2002, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was established, with a $10 billion grant from the US government, to rebuild downtown Manhattan. Soon thereafter, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation (WTCMF) was established to begin designing a permanent memorial for those that died in the 9/11 attacks. 

At about that same time, various groups began lobbying the WTCMF to include the girder cross in the final design of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. American Atheists spoke out against that suggestion, making numerous appearances to civic and governmental groups as well as on national media denouncing the suggestion as a blatant violation of the First Amendment and exclusionary to non-Christian Americans. It also offered to provide its own memorial artifact to be set next to the girder cross to honor all other Americans who died in the 9/11 attacks. American Atheists never received any response to its complaints or its offer of an additional memorial artifact. 

The WTCMF completed the construction of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in July. On July 23, the WTCMF arranged to have the girder cross brought back from St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and dropped in through the roof of the museum to be placed on a mounting that the WTCMF had built specifically for that purpose. The girder cross was then immediately consecrated in a private religious ceremony by Brian Jordan, the same Franciscan priest who originally claimed the girder cross to be a religious icon soon after it had been discovered. No other religious or secular representatives were invited to the event. 

On July 26, 2011, American Atheists filed suit against PANYNJ, the states of New York and New Jersey; their governors; the City of New York; the mayor of New York City; the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation; World Trade Center Properties, LLC; the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus; and Fr. Brian Jordan. The full suit is available here.

United States District Court Ruling

On March 28, 2013, United States District Court Deborah Batts granted a motion of judgment in favor of the defendants, deciding against American Atheists. The District Court decision is available here. American Atheists President David Silverman and National Legal Director Edwin Kagin vowed to appeal.

On August 9, 2013, American Atheists filed its appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second District. This filing can be read here.  

American Atheists Center
PO Box 158, Cranford, NJ 07016
Phone: 908.276.7300

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