Atheist activists have long argued that a steel cross on display at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum violates the separation of church and state, but an appeals court Monday threw out the latest lawsuit brought by American Atheists, a secular advocacy group.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit unanimously ruled that the cross serves as a historical artifact more than it does a Christian symbol and is, thus, legally permissible, the New York Daily News reported.

American Atheists president David Silverman told TheBlaze Tuesday that he’s disappointed over the ruling.

“We’re really disappointed with the courts ruling. The court has reinforced inequality, reenforced Christian privilege,” he said. “The cross does not represent everyone. The cross doesn’t represent any of the atheists, any of the Jews, any of the Muslims or any of the pagans who died on 9/11.”

Silverman added that atheists are “clearly second class” in the eyes of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

But despite these negative views on the ruling, Frank Silecchia, 60, the man who originally found the cross in the World Trade Center wreckage, was elated with the victory, telling the Daily News that he is “proud” and thankful over the court’s conclusion.

“Faith won over atheism. I’m kind of proud because that was my initial goal: to help ease the burden of humanity,” Silecchia told the outlet. “All I can do is thank God for answering my prayer.”

As TheBlaze previously reported, American Atheists first filed suit against the cross in July 2011, arguing at one point in court documents that the cross caused them physical and emotional pain.

A judge in New York threw out claims against the cross in March 2013. But American Atheists forged on, appealing the decision to the Second Circuit earlier this year.

“This is neither artifact nor art — it is a Christian shrine, made to service Christians and place Christianity above others at the memorial,” Silverman told blogger Hemant Mehta in March. “Assertions to the contrary are simply dishonest — this is a Christian cross on public land, paid for with public money, and that means we are entitled to equal representation — they can take the cross out or include atheists.”

Unfortunately for American Atheists, the judges unanimously disagreed with these arguments, finding that the cross is anything but an endorsement of religion.

“The stated purpose of displaying The Cross at Ground Zero to tell the story of how some people used faith to cope with the tragedy is genuine, and an objective observer would understand the purpose of the display to be secular,” the judges said, according to the Daily Caller. “An objective observer would not view the display as endorsing religion generally, or Christianity specifically, because it is part of an exhibit entitled ‘Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,’ [which] includes various nonreligious as well as religious artifacts.”

The World Trade Center cross was pulled from the rubble of the 9/11 attacks. The cross is part of the planned 9/11 Museum. (AP)

The World Trade Center cross was pulled from the rubble of the 9/11 attacks. (AP)

Silverman told TheBlaze that his organization initially wanted the cross removed in 2011, but softened its language and expectations in the appeal to allow the museum to, instead, add an atheist memorial that was equal in size and scope to the cross.

That prospect has been rejected by museum officials and judges alike, leaving American Atheists to decide how they will move forward now; hey have a choice: either abandon the case and admit defeat or appeal.

“We don’t have final plans yet. We have to go over what the ruling said,” Silverman said. “We don’t want to make bad law … but we don’t want to give up on inequality at the World Trade Center.”

Silverman added that it’s possible further legal action will be taken, though he is currently unsure what will unfold.

(H/T: New York Daily News)