In a landmark 7-2 ruling, Supreme Court justices on both sides of the aisle ruled that a 40-foot public cross erected in the early 1900s as a World War 1 memorial should be allowed to remain in place.
The cross, located on government land in Bladensburg, Maryland, was the brainchild of mothers who lost their sons in the first World War and was later constructed by the American Legion. It has since become part of the town’s landscape, and is commonly known as the Peace Cross. It failed to offend anyone until a few years ago when the American Humanist Association took legal action in 2015 to have the cross removed. A federal judge ruled against the AHA; however, the organization won when it appealed the ruling. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has now clarified that the cross is there to stay whether the “good without a God” AHA likes it or not.
Not surprisingly, there are plenty of people who are unhappy with the decision. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of only two Supreme Court judges to rule against the cross, made it a point to read her opinion on the case aloud. She claimed the cross shows the government is elevating the Christian faith over other faiths and secular beliefs. The American Humanist Organization blatantly accused the Supreme Court of approving publicly funded Christian favoritism.
Naturally, the parties offended by the decision failed to note the obvious truths outlined in the Supreme Court ruling. It was in fact a particularly interesting case, because the justices who ruled in favor of the cross offered varying logical reasons for doing so. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch stated the obvious point that the American Humanist Association did not even have standing to bring the case to court in the first place. Associate Justice Samuel Alito noted that while the Cross in itself is indeed a Christian symbol, not all crosses hold a primarily religious meaning for those who view them. Furthermore, Justice Alito accurately pointed out that the government simply cannot tear down all historical monuments that happen to have religious symbolism in the name of “separation of church and state.”
It wasn’t just conservatives who stood behind the cross, either. Associate Justice Stephen Beyer, better known for liberal rulings on important cases, conceded that there is no good reason to tear down what is essentially a historical monument simply because said monument has a religious connotation.
At the same time, some advocates of religious liberty note that the ruling doesn’t go as far as they would like it to. Unfortunately, they have a point as the ruling could allow other secular organizations to sue over other religious displays especially if these displays were constructed relatively recently and/or do not have a historical or cultural connotation. However, the good news is that the ruling does seem to make it clear that historical religious displays that have been around for decades don’t necessarily have to be removed simply because they happen to be placed on government land.
Local and state governments are certainly breathing a sigh of relief as the ruling could be used to help protect important markers such as the steel beam cross at Ground Zero in New York City, the Argonne Cross in Arlington National Cemetery and the Taos, New Mexico memorial commemorating the Bataan Death March.
Secular activists desperate to obliterate Christian symbols throughout the land may be furious, but the Peace Cross in Maryland is here to stay. The ruling allowing it to remain in place has made it clear that separation of church and state does not mean that the government cannot tolerate the presence of any sort of religious monument on any type of public land.