Previous Lawsuits

These are lawsuits that American Atheists is no longer pursing.

American Atheists v. Port Authority (Miracle Cross Case)

 Background

Two days after the 9/11 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. 

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.

Federal Courts' Rulings

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.  In a 3-0 decision, the circuit court ruled against American Atheists appeal on July 28, 2014. You can read the decision here.  American Atheists decided not to appeal the decision further in September 2014.

American Atheists et al v. The Commonweath of Kentucky

Background

On March 28, 2002, The Kentucky Legislature enacted KRS 39A.285 which, in Section 8, states "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

On July 12, 2006, the Legislature-passed Senate Bill 59, a change to KRS 39G.010(2)(a) took effect. This requires the Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security to: "Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as  being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3).”

State District Court Ruling

This case was first introduced on December 2, 2008 when American Atheists joined with ten Kentucky residents to launch a lawsuit against the State of Kentucky. The case went to trial in Franklin County, Kentucky, in August 2009. On August 26, 2009, Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the law violated the First Amendment’s protection against the establishment of a state religion.

Judge Wingate’s ruling stated: "Even assuming that most of this nation’s citizens have historically depended upon God by choice for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now. This is the very reason the Establishment Clause was created: to protect the minority from the oppression of the majority. The commonwealth's history does not exclude God from the statutes, but it had never permitted the General Assembly to demand that its citizens depend on Almighty God."

On September 4, 2009, Attorney General of Kentucky Jack Conway appealed the ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

KY Court of Appeals' Ruling

On February 24, 2011, a Kentucky Court of Appeals panel heard oral arguments for this case. On October 28, 2011, the Court of Appeals ruled, in a 2-to-1 decision, against American Atheists and overturned Judge Wingate's ruling. The full decision, and dissent by Senior Judge Shake, is available here.

Following this decision, American Atheists filed a Motion for Discretionary Review with the Kentucky Supreme Court. This motion was denied on August 17, 2012, the Kentucky Supreme Court denied that motion. Following this decision, American Atheists filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States on November 16, 2012. 

Resolution

On January 11, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States sent a letter to Kentucky Attorney General Conway requesting that Kentucky file a response to American Atheists' petition for a writ of certiorari. On February 12, Attorney General Conway filed the State's response to American Atheists. On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it had declined to hear this case. President David Silverman said, "We disagree with the court's decision. Kentucky is putting a criminal penalty on a refusal to affirm to a god, and we maintain our stance that this law is unconstitutional. We are proud that we were able to raise awareness about this and we're sorry the Supreme Court has decided to sidestep the issue. The people of Kentucky deserve better."

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

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