(CNN) -- A memorial cross at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York can remain at the newly-opened facility, an appeals court ruled Monday.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit found that the cross, located at ground zero, was "a symbol of hope" and historical in nature. It did not intentionally discriminate against a group of atheists who sued to have it removed, they ruled.
Cross moved to Trade Center site
The court also rejected arguments the traditional Christian cross was an impermissible mingling of church and state.
"With this recognition, a reasonable observer would view the primary effect of displaying the cross at ground zero, amid hundreds of other (mostly secular) artifacts, to be ensuring historical completeness, not promoting religion," the judges said in their decision.
The 17-foot cross in the museum was erected by rescue and recovery workers, and built from intersecting steel beams that had been part of the World Trade Center's North Tower, after it collapsed during the al Qaeda terror attacks in 2001.
It was moved a year ago from near a church to its new location in lower Manhattan.
"This is an enormously important and common-sense ruling," said Eric Baxter, counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed a brief supporting the museum's right to display the cross, noting that the court drew an "important distinction" between religion and history and culture.
The case was first dismissed by a federal district judge.