In a 7-2 ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court decided that a 40-foot World War I memorial cross that has stood on public land in Maryland for 94 years does not violate the First Amendment. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the memorial, also known as the “Peace Cross,” has become a prominent community landmark and should be upheld.
“After the First World War, the picture of row after row of plain white crosses marking the overseas graves of soldiers who had lost their lives in that horrible conflict was emblazoned on the minds of Americans at home, and the adoption of the cross as the Bladensburg memorial must be viewed in that historical context,” Alito wrote. “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.’”
In the concurring opinions, justices agreed that religious expression in the public square has been common throughout U.S. history and doesn’t need to be purged. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the two dissenters, arguing that displaying the Peace Cross on a public highway is implying that the government elevates Christianity over other faiths.
“As I see it, when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content. The venue is surely associated with the State; the symbol and its meaning are just as surely associated exclusively with Christianity,” Ginsburg wrote.
Kelly Shackelford, the chief counsel to First Liberty, represented the plaintiff The American Legion in the case.
“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom. The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over,” Shackelford said. “Our Founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history, and symbols. The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the court, “rightly recognized that religious symbols are an important part of our nation’s history and culture.”
Here’s the key concluding quote: /3 pic.twitter.com/00zwQeR6q4
— Luke Goodrich (@LukeWGoodrich) June 20, 2019