A New York judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a group of atheists, ruling that a pair of World Trade Center beams in the shape of a cross can be included in a memorial museum of the 9/11 terror attacks.
American Atheists filed the lawsuit in July, arguing that the "government enshrinement of the cross" was an impermissible mingling of church and state.
The World Trade Center cross, two intersecting steel beams that held up when the twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, is seen as iconic to some.
The cross was moved in July from near a church to its new home at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, located at ground zero in Lower Manhattan. Father Brian Jordan, a Franciscan priest who ministered to workers clearing the area after the attacks, led a ceremonial blessing of the cross.
Federal Judge Deborah Batts of the Southern District of New York ruled Thursday that display of the beams is permissible because they bear historical importance.
Named defendants included the museum, New Jersey, the city of New York, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"The museum is gratified by the decision," Mark Alcott, the lawyer for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, told CNN on Friday.
"The plan has been to display this as one of hundreds and hundreds of artifacts ... because it is part of the history of the recovery efforts after the 911 attacks.
"For some of these people, [the cross] had symbolic significance," he continued, referring to first responders. "They treated it as a religious object and it gave them a great deal of comfort at a difficult time. The 9/11 museum is simply depicting what happened."
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, told CNN, "We are angry that we have to have this fight."
Silverman said it was clear that the cross was regarded as sacred, noting that it "was installed in a religious service on consecrated ground by a priest. How anyone could say that is secular is beyond me."
September 11 "affected all Americans, not just Christians," Silverman continued. "We will not sit and let the 500 atheists who died on 9/11 go unnoticed."
Silverman said his group plans to appeal the decision.
"We are confident that we will eventually win this case and that cross will be removed, or atheists will be allowed to have our own symbol in there," he said.