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Summary Judgment For September 11 Museum In Ground Zero Cross Case Granted

Judge Deborah Batts of the Southern District of New York granted in full a motion for summary judgment by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc., represented on a pro bono basis by Paul, Weiss, in litigation brought by American Atheists and three of its members. In the case, the members challenged the proposed display of an artifact shaped as a cross in the September 11 Museum.

The artifact, a cross-shaped steel beam discovered in the wreckage at Ground Zero two days after the September 11 attacks, was interpreted by some rescue workers as a religious symbol and was venerated during the operation at Ground Zero. The Museum proposes to display the artifact, together with other objects, in a section of the Historical Exhibition of the Museum that will depict how workers coped during the devastating nine-month operation. Plaintiffs claimed that, because of its religious significance, the display of the artifact violated the Establishment Clause, equal protection laws and civil rights statutes. Paul, Weiss sought summary judgment on behalf of the September 11 Museum, and that motion was considered and granted on its merits in a 40-page decision released by Judge Batts. Judge Batts held that the display of the artifact was state action, but that the display did not violate the Establishment Clause pursuant to the Lemon test because the display had a valid secular purpose, its principal or primary effect did not advance or endorse religion and it did not foster excessive government entanglement with religion.

The Paul, Weiss team included of counsel Mark Alcott, partner Gerard Harper and associates Hannah Sholl, Julie Romm and Paul Paterson.

March 28, 2013

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