Supreme Court rules 40-foot Maryland cross can stand as it is a 'community landmark' and not religious in nature
The residents of 'religiously diverse' Maryland and the American Humanist Association had jointly filed a lawsuit in an attempt to take the cross down from the region
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Bladensburg Peace Cross war memorial on public land in Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. can continue to stand as it does not violate the Constitution.
The residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland and the American Humanist Association had jointly filed a lawsuit in an attempt to have the cross taken down from the region.
However, the top court determined that various factors, including the history of the 100-year-old memorial, back the notion that the Peace Cross is not religious in nature.
Justice Samuel Alito, in the court's opinion, wrote: "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,’” he continued.
The Supreme Court's decision has now reversed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' verdict which had ruled that the war memorial cross in the region was not constitutional.
The top court announced a 7-2 majority decision on Thursday and cited that the structure's historical nature, stating that the Latin cross design reflected the trend across the nation at the time and was constructed in an effort to honor the war dead.
The monument, also known as the Bladensburg Peace Cross, is located at a traffic circle in the Washington suburbs and honors 49 soldiers of World War I who died overseas in battle.
The monument has been slammed by critics who have called it an impermissible overlap of church and state, considering it is cared for and controlled by a Maryland parks commission.
“The government’s giant cross in Bladensburg sends an obvious message of religious favoritism, and today’s decision holding otherwise is deeply disappointing,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
“The silver lining, though, is that the ruling is limited to the unique circumstances of this particular monument, and is hardly a free pass for government officials to promote their preferred religious symbols and messages in the future.”
Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, added: “The state of Maryland is religiously diverse, and so, too, are Marylanders who have served in our armed forces. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court failed to see that the Bladensburg Cross elevates the service and sacrifice of some veterans over others, violating the basic constitutional requirement of religious neutrality.”
The Trump administration, however, has expressed support for the controversial monument.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan released a statement on Thursday morning saying the ruling was a "great victory."
"This is a great victory after we fought tirelessly to keep the Peace Cross standing in recognition of the valor, endurance, courage, and devotion of our World War I veterans. Today’s ruling ensures that this memorial—a dignified tribute to those who came before us and made the ultimate sacrifice—will stand tall and proud for the ages," she said. "I was honored to help lead this fight on behalf of our veterans, and I am proud that Marylanders and Americans will be able to visit the Peace Cross in Bladensburg for years to come.”