Bladensburg Peace Cross can stay, Supreme Court rules

20 Juin, 2019, 23:23 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • The World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg Maryland

"Bladensburg's "Peace Cross" honors veterans who gave everything to serve their country, and the Supreme Court's decision means that the memorial will continue to honor their memory", David Cortman, senior counsel and vice president of US litigation at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which filed a friend of the court brief in the case, said in a statement.

The same group also sued to tear down a World War II cross monument in Pensacola, Florida, in a case the Court is expected to act on soon.

Alito argued that there should be a blanket "presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols and practices", a view supported by three other justices, but just short of the majority needed to establish a precedent-setting new rule.

"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 frightful 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. The names of 49 soldiers are engraved at the base of the cross.

In 1961 the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission acquired the land where the cross stands - creating the church-state clash that the cross's opponents raised with the Supreme Court.

The American Humanist Association did not immediately comment on the ruling.

But he said there was no evidence of that. "For all these reasons, the cross does not offend the Constitution".

It remains to be seen what the effect of the ruling has on hundreds of other cross-style memorials on public lands across the country.

Justice Breyer said each one must be taken on its own facts, and he said Thursday's opinion, while setting out one framework, does not guarantee they are all permissible.

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One of the major questions for religious liberty advocates in this case was whether or not the Supreme Court would overrule the infamous "Lemon test", which has been used as a standard in these cases for decades.

He wrote that though the cross is "undoubtedly a Christian symbol", the Bladensburg, Maryland, monument has come to represent "a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home, a place for the community to gather and honour all veterans and their sacrifices for this Nation, and a historical landmark".

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, said the suit should have been dismissed earlier given the lack of standing of the association.

The Court largely agreed with the AHA, which asserted that the memorial honored World War I heroes and was not erected for people as a basis for worship.

Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. "The venue is surely associated with the State; the symbol and its meaning are just as surely associated exclusively with Christianity", Ginsburg wrote.

For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for almost a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.

In the past, similar monuments have met with a mixed fate at the high court.

She suggested moving the cross to another location could solve the religious entanglement.

The Court's opinion today overturns a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit against the Peace Cross and states that, for many, "destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for almost a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment". "The days of illegitimately weaponizing the establishment clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over", said Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO and chief counsel for First Liberty, said in a statement.

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