Supreme Court agrees to hear case challenging huge cross as violation of church and state

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging the separation of church and state in a dispute centered on a 40-foot cross on state land in Maryland.

The justices agreed to weigh whether the Latin cross erected 93 years ago as a memorial for residents of Prince George's County who died in combat in World War I violates a clause of the Constitution banning governments from establishing any religion.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the cross violated the First Amendment and must come down. The American Legion and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, however, argue the appeals court got it wrong.

The cross stands in the middle of a busy intersection in Prince George's County and, according to court documents, is maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds.

Left undisturbed, The American Legion said the Fourth Circuit ruling will have enormous consequences for the Maryland memorial and two WWII memorials just like it in Arlington National Cemetery.

"Most immediately, it will require the state government to destroy or disfigure the Memorial itself - during oral argument, the author of the panel opinion twice suggested cutting off the arms of the cross to remedy the perceived violation," the group said in its petition. 

The court has not yet scheduled when the cases, which have been consolidated for one hour of arguments, will be heard.