NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Arguments were heard Thursday in a case brought by an atheist group against placing what’s known as the World Trade Center cross in the National September 11 Museum.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, the lawyer for the 9/11 museum, Mark Alcott, called the steel beam cross an artifact during oral arguments at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

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But American Atheists attorney Edwin Kagan called the 17-foot-tall crossed beams a religious symbol that only gives one story of the people who suffered and has no place on government-owned land. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owns the site where the museum is located.

Judge Reena Raggi said there are countless other religious artifacts on display at many museums. She asked the lawyer for the American Atheists if their goal was to censure history.

Before arguments began, those opposed to the cross in the museum demonstrated outside federal court, CBS 2’s John Slattery reported.

“This is part of religious history. It’s an act of religious symbolism. It is a shrine now,” Ken Bronstein of New York City Atheists said outside court. “That miracle cross should be moved back to St. Peter’s where it was for five years.”

The cross was a T-beam from Tower 6, which was blessed by Father Brian Jordan who served as the ground zero chaplain.

“This was a sign of consolation. It’s was never meant to hurt anyone, hurt the atheists or anything like that,” Fr. Jordan said. “It is an artifact that should be included in the museum because it’s a history museum. This is a part of the memory of 9/11.”

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“What we have here is a definite consecrated religious object. It is not a historical artifact,” Bronstein said.

Opponents said this particular artifact is different from the thousand other items to be displayed, Slattery reported.

Short of excluding the cross-shaped beam, the atheists want a plaque stating, “Atheists died here, too.”

“Museums don’t censor history, they don’t make up history. They tell history as it happened and the cross is part of the history and the plaque is not,” Eric Baxter with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said.

The case will need to be decided quickly, as the 9/11 museum is slated on open in May. The case was tossed last year by a U.S. District judge.

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