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Supreme Court of the United States

American Atheists v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Last Updated: 6/2/2020

Overview

What's at stake

  • Challenges to monuments that honor the courage and sacrifice of our civil servants.
  • Whether the display of religious icons on public property violates the Establishment Clause.

Summary

In the days following the September 11, 2001 attack, workers at the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers discovered something remarkable: two steel beams in the shape of a cross standing tall in the midst of the carnage. Many viewed the cross as a symbol of hope and recovery for those impacted by the attacks.

Plans were made to include the cross in the September 11 Memorial in an exhibit called "Finding Meaning at Ground Zero." But in 2011, members of American Atheist filed a lawsuit to challenge the inclusion of the naturally-formed cross in the memorial. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against the atheist group. The court held that the inclusion of the cross in the memorial would not violate the Establishment Clause because it had a valid, historical purpose and its inclusion neither advance nor endorsed religion.

American Atheist appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. A decision is pending in the case. 

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom provided important funding to support the inclusion of the cross in the September 11 Memorial.

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Resources

Legal Documents

Court
Title
Date
{"docs": [{"Court": "TrialCourt", "Title": "Complaint", "FileName": "https://adflegal.blob.core.windows.net/mainsite-new/docs/default-source/documents/legal-documents/american-atheists-v.-port-authority-of-new-york-and-new-jersey/american-atheists-v-port-authority-of-new-york-and-new-jersey---complaint.pdf", "Date": "10/26/2017 8:55:00 PM"}]}
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