by Fred Lucas
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Thursday that a cross-shaped war memorial on public land in Maryland doesn’t violate the Constitution.
In the case of American Legion v. the American Humanist Association, the atheist group had sued seeking removal of the 40-foot Peace Cross in Prince George’s County–just outside Washington, D.C.–contending that the World War I memorial was contrary to the separation of church and state.
However, a supermajority on a court that is often closely divided on hot button issues determined the history of the Peace Cross erected in Bladensburg, Maryland, doesn’t indicate it promoted a religion, Christianity, in honoring 49 local men who died in the war.
“For nearly a century, the Bladensburg Cross has expressed the community’s grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifice, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion for the court.
Alito went on to quote Justice Stephen Breyer’s words from a previous case also hinging on the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
“It has become a prominent community landmark, and its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of ‘a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions,’” Alito wrote.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch joined Alito and Breyer in the majority. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The Trump administration’s Justice Department supported keeping the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a local landmark situated in a traffic circle.
The high court in its ruling shot down a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that determined the memorial was unconstitutional, siding with plaintiffs who argued it violated the separation of church and state.
The cross-shaped monument, constructed between 1919 and 1925, stands on property owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a government agency created by the state of Maryland.
The American Humanist Association, representing some Prince George’s County residents, sued in 2014 to force removal of the memorial, naming both the Park and Planning Commission and the American Legion, which originally helped pay for it.
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Fred Lucas is the White House correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast. Lucas is also the author of “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections.”
Photo “Peace Cross” by David. CC BY 2.0.