In a 7-2 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a World War I memorial Peace Cross in Maryland could stand despite being on public land, reports Fox News.
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the cross does not violate the Constitution due to it being a historical symbol. Residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland and the American Humanist Association (AHA) argued otherwise and sued to have it removed as a result. Fortunately, they did not prevail.
“The court’s decision reverses the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the cross was unconstitutional,” reports the outlet. “The 7-2 majority on Thursday cited the structure’s historical nature in its narrowly drawn decision, saying the Latin cross design reflected the nationwide trend at the time it was erected to honor war dead with community monuments. The cross was associated with World War I, and the Court noted that the U.S. used it in military honors, such as the Distinguished Service Cross in 1918 and Navy Cross in 1919.”
Writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito ruled that the Bladensburg Cross symbolized the community’s values regarding the men who perished in World War I.
“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,” argued Alito.
Furthermore, Alito said that the removal of the cross could very well be anti-religious in nature, evoking thoughts of “religious hostility.” The justice even quoted his left-of-center colleague, Stephen Breyer, as the basis.
“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,'” wrote Alito.
The Court largely agreed with the AHA, which asserted that the memorial honored World War I heroes and was not erected for people as a basis for worship. Though the Court agreed the cross had inarguable Christian connotations, it conceded that its context for existence was “indisputably secular.” It also noted that a memorial does gain a protected status after a certain passage of time.
“Familiarity itself can become a reason for preservation,” Alito wrote for the Court. “The passage of time gives rise to a strong presumption of constitutionality. There is no evidence of discriminatory intent in the selection of the design of the memorial or the decision of a Maryland commission to maintain it. 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.”
In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said that the cross cannot be secularized because it does not represent other faiths that died for America. “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,” Ginsburg wrote. “The dissent claimed that by having the Peace Cross on a public highway, the government ‘elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion.'”