Supreme Court rules cross at state-run WWI memorial can remain
The American Legion had built the 40-foot-tall cross in a memorial park for World War I veterans in Maryland, and a state commission later took over responsibility for the park, including caring for the cross.
But non-Christian residents argued that the government’s care of the cross is in violation of the Constitution’s separation of church and state edict.
However, the court found that the historical context surrounding the cross allows it to remain in place. And the majority opinion did so without using as its basis the Supreme Court’s previous test for determining if a law violated the constitutional clause banning Congress from passing any laws establishing a religion.
The justices were split in their reasoning behind their rulings: Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority judgement, and was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Religious groups celebrated Thursday’s decision as a major victory for religious liberty and freedom.
“The silver lining, though, is that the ruling is limited to the unique circumstances of this particular monument, and is hardly a free pass for government officials to promote their preferred religious symbols and messages in the future,” Mach said in a statement.
“The Religion Clauses of the Constitution aim to foster a society in which people of all beliefs can live together harmoniously, and the presence of the Bladensburg Cross on the land where it has stood for so many years is fully consistent with that aim,” the opinion states.
And he wrote that, due to the “passage of time,” the court cannot determine whether the motivation behind constructing the cross was truly religious, “and attempting to uncover their motivations invites rampant speculation.
“And no matter what the original purposes for the erection of a monument, a community may wish to preserve it for very different reasons, such as the historic preservation and traffic- safety concerns the Commission has pressed here,” the opinion reads.
“For many of these people, destroying or defacing the cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment,” the opinion reads. “For all these reasons, the cross does not offend the Constitution.”
“By maintaining the Peace Cross on a public highway, the commission elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion,” she wrote.