U.S. Supreme Court says large cross in Maryland can stay on public land
A First World War memorial in the shape of a 12-metre-high cross can continue to stand on public land in Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The justices, in ruling 7-2 in favour of the cross's backers, concluded the nearly 100-year-old memorial's presence on a grassy highway median doesn't violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favouring one religion over others.
The case had been closely watched because it involves the place of religious symbols in public life. Defenders of the cross in Bladensburg had argued a ruling against them could doom of hundreds of war memorials that use crosses to commemorate soldiers who died.
"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," Justice Samuel Alito wrote.
"For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honour all veterans and their sacrifices to our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. 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. For all these reasons, the Cross does not offend the Constitution."
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.- Samuel Alito, U.S. Supreme Court justice
Two of the court's liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, both of whom are Jewish, joined their conservative colleagues in ruling for the cross.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is also Jewish, dissented, with Ginsburg writing that "the principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion's paramountcy." In all, seven of the nine justices wrote to explain their views in opinions that totaled over 80 pages.
Challengers to the cross included three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, which includes atheists and agnostics. They argued the cross, in a suburb near the nation's capital, should be moved to private property or modified into a non-religious monument such as a slab or obelisk.
Defenders included the American Legion, which raised money to build the monument honouring area residents who died in the First World War. Other backers included the Trump administration and Maryland officials who took over maintenance of the cross nearly 60 years ago to preserve it and address traffic safety concerns.
Maryland officials had argued the cross, sometimes called the Peace Cross, doesn't violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning.
'A win for America': Republican senator
In the past, similar monuments have met with a mixed fate at the high court.
On the same day in 2005, for example, the court upheld a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol while striking down Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses.
After those rulings and others the Supreme Court has been criticized for being less than clear in explaining how to analyze so-called passive displays such as Maryland's cross, that are challenged as violating the Constitution's establishment clause.
I was honored to help lead this fight on behalf of our veterans, and I am proud that Marylanders and Americans will be able to visit the Peace Cross in Bladensburg for years to come.—@GovLarryHogan
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, hailed the ruling, saying he was honoured "to help lead this fight on behalf of our veterans."
Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana called the ruling a "win for America" on social media.
"Today the Supreme Court ruled to defend religious liberty and allow the Bladensburg World War I Peace Cross in Maryland to stand," the Republican said in a tweet.