Press Release

Court Questions Atheists’ Right To Challenge Ground Zero Cross The Becket Fund’s Amicus Brief Forces the Issue

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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Washington, D.C. – Citing an amicus brief filed by Becket, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order yesterday directing American Atheists, Inc., the group that sued to stop the National 9/11 Museum from displaying the Ground Zero Cross, to file a new brief justifying why the Court should even bother ruling on their claim that the display violates the Establishment Clause.

“We’re thrilled that the Court picked up on this issue,” said Eric Baxter, Counsel for Becket, whose brief argued that American Atheists had no right to bring a lawsuit in the first place. “Courts should not allow people to sue just because they claim to get ‘dyspepsia’ over a historical artifact displayed in a museum.”

The Court’s order directs American Atheists and the Museum to submit new briefs by July 14, 2014, addressing whether American Atheists has actually suffered a direct injury that justifies a lawsuit.

“Taking personal offense is not an injury that warrants invoking the power of the courts to shut down everything you disagree with,” said Baxter. “Lawsuits for violations of the Establishment Clause should be limited to circumstances where the government is truly coercing people to engage in religious activity. The Constitution is not a personal tool for censoring everyone’s beliefs but your own.”

Baxter also pointed out that last month the Supreme Court made the same point in the Town of Greece v. Galloway case, where it stated “an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views. Becket filed its amicus brief because the Museum and other defendants failed to challenge the American Atheists’ frivolous allegations that reading newspaper articles about the display caused them stress, headaches, and, yes, indigestion.

“It is unusual for a court to require parties to a lawsuit to file additional briefs based on arguments raised by a non-party,” said Baxter. “Hopefully, this is a signal that the Court will draw the line against American Atheists’ frivolous attack on the Ground Zero Cross. More importantly, we hope the Court firmly rejects the idea that the Constitution treats religion with suspicion and instead reaffirms that it protects the role of religion in the public square.”

Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 19 years its attorneys have been recognized as experts in the field of church-state law. Becket recently won a 9-0 Supreme Court victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”