A federal appeals court in Manhattan on Monday rejected a freedom-of-religion challenge brought by an atheists' group to the Sept. 11 museum's display of a cross-shaped girder and crossbeam found at Ground Zero on Sept. 13, 2001.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, upholding a lower court's dismissal of the lawsuit brought by American Atheists Inc., said the display of the cross-shaped girders was to record a piece of the history of Sept. 11's aftermath, and not to promote religion.

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Judge Reena Raggi said the cross became a rallying point for rescue workers in the wake of the attacks, and was displayed in a section of the National Sept. 11 Museum called "Finding Meaning at Ground Zero" that included flags and mementos from the debris.

She called the cross a "historic artifact" that was an "inclusive symbol for any persons seeking hope and comfort in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks" and said its purpose was not the "divisive one of promoting religion over nonreligion."

The lawsuit alleged that the display violated the Constitution's ban on government favoring religion. It sought removal of the cross, or acknowledgment on a plaque that atheists were among the victims and rescuers.