The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Bladensburg’s beloved World War I memorial cross can remain on public lands, rejecting a challenge that it was an illegal entanglement of state and religion. The court, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that while the cross is a Christian symbol, the one in Bladensburg has “special significance” as a war memorial and expression of the community’s grief at its lost sons. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that removing it, at this point, would actually be seen as “hostility” toward religion. “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,” he wrote. The 40-foot-tall Latin cross stands at the intersection of several major roads in the suburbs just outside of Washington, D.C. It was erected by the American Legion and the design was chosen to mirror the crosses that stood on the graves of the troops who died during the Great War. The names of 49 soldiers are engraved at the base of the cross. In 1961 the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission acquired the land where the cross stands — creating the church-state clash that the cross’s opponents raised with the Supreme Court. Justice Breyer, who agreed with the main ruling, said the case would have been different if there’d been evidence that the American Legion had erected the cross in an attempt to disparage or disrespect faiths other than the Christians the cross represents. But he said there was no evidence of that. “I see no reason to order this cross torn down simply because other crosses would raise constitutional concerns,” he wrote. It remains to be seen what the effect of the ruling has on hundreds of other cross-style memorials on public lands across the country. Justice Breyer said each one must be taken on its own facts, and he said Thursday’s opinion, while setting out one framework, does not guarantee they are all permissible. But the ruling was the latest blow to the so-called “Lemon test,” the Supreme Court’s 1971 framework for deciding religion-state entanglements, which required the courts to look at whether a government action advanced or endorsed religion. “While the Lemon Court ambitiously attempted to find a grand unified theory of the Establishment Clause, in later cases, we have taken a more modest approach that focuses on the particular issue at hand and looks to history for guidance,” Justice Alito wrote. He suggested there should be “a presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments” on public grounds. But only two other justices joined him in that part of the opinion.
We applaud this common-sense ruling by the Supreme Court today. For more, click on the text above. 🙂