Hands stretch toward a steel beam cross as the Rev. Brian Jordan, center, applies holy water during its rededication at the World Trade Center site in New York, Oct. 3, 2002. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

A steel beam cross that arose from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was “a symbol of hope for many working on rescue and recovery there. ... The 2-ton, 20-foot-high T-beam has now become a religious relic,” the Associated Press reported earlier this week.

It’s also the center of a controversy that brings to mind the fierce debate over the Ground Zero mosque last year.

An atheist advocacy organization filed suit today in New York state court to protest the cross, while Christian groups want it to say. Here’s why both sides think they’re right.

The American Atheists:

The group claims the cross violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause by improperly promoting a particular religion on government land. The suit contends that atheists are “being subjected to and injured in consequence of having a religious tradition not their own imposed upon them.”

Dan Blair, the communications director for American Atheists, told the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog “we can appreciate people’s emotional attachment to this [memorial], but that shouldn’t override the Constitution.”

Read the full complaint.

Christian groups

The American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal advocacy group, has criticized the suit, saying it will back the placement of the cross at Ground Zero.

“This is another pathetic attempt to rewrite the Constitution and rewrite history by removing a symbol that has deep meaning and serves as a powerful remembrance to that fateful attack nearly 10 years ago,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ told the Law Blog.

The Rev. Brian Jordan, the Roman Catholic priest who led the effort to preserve the cross, says that he celebrated Mass under the cross for weeks and that members of many different religions took part.

Jordan, some of his family members, union workers, police and firefighters have together collected more than 50,000 signatures on petitions to keep the cross as part of the permanent memorial.