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Second Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for September 11 Museum in Ground Zero Cross Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed the granting of summary judgment in favor of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc. in litigation brought by American Atheists and three of its members. Paul, Weiss represents the Museum on a pro bono basis in the litigation.

Plaintiffs challenged the display in the September 11 Museum, which opened in May 2014, of a cross-shaped steel beam discovered in the wreckage at Ground Zero two days after the September 11 attacks. The cross was interpreted by some rescue and recovery workers as a religious symbol, and was venerated by them during the operation at Ground Zero. The September 11 Museum later determined to display the cross, together with numerous other objects, in a section of the Historical Exhibition of the Museum depicting how workers coped during the devastating nine-month rescue and recovery operation. Plaintiffs claimed that, because of its religious significance, the display of the cross violated the Establishment Clause, equal protection laws and civil rights statutes.

Paul, Weiss moved for summary judgment on behalf of the September 11 Museum, and that motion was considered and granted on its merits by Judge Batts of the Southern District of New York in March 2013. Plaintiffs appealed to the Second Circuit, and oral argument was held in March. On July 28, the Second Circuit issued a 42-page opinion affirming the District Court decision in favor of the September 11 Museum. The Second Circuit found that the purpose of displaying the artifact was "to tell the story of how some people used faith to cope with the tragedy" of September 11, that an objective observer would not view the display as endorsing religion, and that the display does not create excessive government entanglement with religion.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation of counsel Mark Alcott, who argued the case, partner Gerard Harper and associates Julie Romm and Paul Paterson.

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