Court Rules Bladensburg WWI Peace Cross Can Stand On Public Land
By Richard Wolf
via the USA Today newspaper web site
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a gigantic Latin cross on government land in Bladensburg, Maryland, does not have to be moved or altered in the name of church-state separation.
The justices reasoned that the 40-foot cross was erected nearly a century ago as a World War I memorial, not an endorsement of Christianity. Although their verdict could extend to other existing monuments, it does not offer a blank check to new ones.
The opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito concluded that the display does not violate the Constitution's establishment clause because of its longevity and multiple messages. The vote was 7-2; Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
"The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent," Alito said. "A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine, will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion."
The ruling protects what Alito called similar "ceremonial, celebratory or commemorative" monuments.
"Where monuments, symbols, and practices with a longstanding history follow in the tradition of the First Congress in respecting and tolerating different views, endeavoring to achieve inclusivity and nondiscrimination, and recognizing the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans, they are likewise constitutional," he said.
Ginsburg dissented from the bench and in writing. "Just as a Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation," she wrote.
It was another in a series of high court decisions defending religious freedom, from allowing public prayer and allocating public funds to exempting religious objectors from laws regarding contraception and same-sex marriage.
The question before the court was simple: Does the 93-year-old "Peace Cross" violate the First Amendment, which prohibits government establishment of religion?
Even if the answer was yes, few of the justices who heard the case in February wanted to see it moved, altered or demolished. Conceived in 1919 by bereaved mothers of the fallen and completed by the American Legion six years later, the war memorial has become part of the town's landscape.
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