The U.S. Supreme Court today, in a 7-2 decision, ruled that a 40-foot World War I memorial in the shape of a Christian cross on public land does not violate the U.S. Constitution.
The justices held that the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which bars the government from unduly favoring one religion over another, does not require the removal of the monument from its location in a traffic median in Bladensburg
“This is a great victory after we fought tirelessly to keep the Peace Cross standing in recognition of the valor, endurance, courage, and devotion of our World War I veterans. Today’s ruling ensures that this memorial—a dignified tribute to those who came before us and made the ultimate sacrifice—will stand tall and proud for the ages, said Governor Larry Hogan.
According to a press release:
The “Peace Cross” was built in 1925 as a tribute to local men who died during World War I. It was paid for by local families, businesses, and the American Legion. The memorial cross sits on a piece of land that has been owned since 1961 by a state commission which pays for its maintenance and upkeep. It stands at Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1, approximately five miles from the U.S. Supreme Court. The shape of the “Peace Cross” was selected to bear a likeness to cross-shaped grave markers used for soldiers buried in American cemeteries overseas. A plaque on the base of the cross lists the names of 49 soldiers and both faces of the cross have a circle with the symbol of the American Legion, the veterans’ organization that helped raise money to build it.
Though the High Court ruled in favor of the “Peace Cross,” it sidestepped the opportunity to overrule the Lemon v. Kurtzman, in which the Court previously ruled that a Rhode Island law that paid some of the salary of some parochial school teachers was unconstitutional. This test has proven to be unworkable and has led to inconsistent and contradictory decisions on the constitutionality of 10 Commandment monuments and cross monuments like the “Peace Cross.” Liberty Counsel previously argued that the “Lemon Test” should be replaced with an objective test that would yield clear and consistent results. The new test would analyze displays based upon history, whether the symbol is ubiquitous and whether the display is coercive, i.e., is actively trying to proselytize or push a particular religious belief.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.