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SCOTUS: 40-Foot Cross on Public Land Can Stay

Thursday opinion cites war monument's historical significance
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2019 10:40 AM CDT
Visitors walk around the 40-foot Maryland Peace Cross dedicated to World War I soldiers in Bladensburg, Md., on Feb. 13, 2019.   (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

(Newser) – A 40-foot cross on public land in a Washington, DC, suburb is staying put, thanks to a 7-2 ruling by the Supreme Court. The Maryland Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md., erected with private funds in 1925 to honor 49 area servicemen killed in World War I, doesn't stand in the face of church-state separation, according to the Thursday opinion, which protects similar crosses in Arlington National Cemetery, per the New York Times. "Even if the monument's original purpose was infused with religion, the passage of time may obscure that sentiment and the monument may be retained for the sake of its historical significance or its place in a common cultural heritage," reads the opinion by Justice Samuel Alito. It notes the cross is "fully consistent" with the Constitution. Indeed, its removal could be seen as "manifestation of a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions."

Per NBC News, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Ginsburg "summarized her dissent from the bench, a sign of profound disagreement," the Times notes. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals sided in 2017 with the American Humanist Association, which argued the cross was a Christianity endorsement. The lower court found a visitor would reasonably assume the government "either places Christianity above other faiths, views being American and Christian as one in the same, or both," per the Washington Post. However, the Supreme Court decided the monument was historic rather than religious, in line with a defense offered by the state parks commission, which took over the monument in 1961. Citing a line from the poem "In Flanders Fields"—"Between the crosses, row on row"—it sought to portray the cross as symbolic of fallen soldiers, not Christianity. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)

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