In another win for the participation of faith in the public domain, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a 40-foot tall cross erected on public property. Justices wrote that the Maryland monument does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
In a decision released Thursday morning, the high court ruled in American Legion v. American Humanist Association that a cross in Bladensburg meant to honor World War I soldiers did not have to removed. It overturned a lower court decision.
Justice Samuel Alito authored most of the multi-part majority opinion, being joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Brett Kavanaugh joined. Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The Cross is A Symbol
Justice Alito wrote that while “the cross has long been a preeminent Christian symbol, its use in the Bladensburg memorial has a special significance.”
“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. 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,’” said Alito.
“… 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.”
Only Two Justices Dissented
In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg argued that the cross was unconstitutional, stating that “using the cross as a war memorial does not transform it into a secular symbol.”
“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,” wrote Ginsburg.
“By maintaining the Peace Cross on a public highway, the Commission elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion.”
Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court sets a precedent for all other communities that displaying crosses does not violate the Constitution.