SCOTUS delivers ‘win for America’ and religious liberty. Historic WWI memorial ‘Peace Cross’ can stand!

(Photo by Mark Gail/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Bladensburg Peace Cross war memorial on public land outside Washington, D.C. does not violate the Constitution and can remain standing, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

A constitutional challenge to the 40-foot war memorial in the shape of a cross located in Maryland was turned back in a Supreme Court ruling Thursday that determined the monument’s history and other factors did not account for it being a violation of the First Amendment, according to the Associated Press.

“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,” Justice Samuel Alito, who delivered the court’s opinion, wrote.

“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 in the 7-2 decision that saw Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor as the two dissenters.

“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 added.

Thursday’s ruling reversed that of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which decided that the 100-year-old memorial was unconstitutional after residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland and the American Humanist Association had filed a lawsuit in 2014 to remove the monument which they claimed endorsed Christianity.

“One simply cannot ignore the fact that for thousands of years the Latin cross has represented Christianity,” Judge Stephanie Thacker had written for the majority in that ruling. “Even in the memorial context, a Latin cross serves not simply as a generic symbol of death, but rather a Christian symbol of the death of Jesus Christ.”

“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,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, which she read from the bench. “Soldiers of all faiths ‘are united by their love of country, but they are not united by the cross.'”

The Maryland state parks commission defended the memorial before the Supreme Court along with the American Legion, which first erected the memorial after World War I to honor 49 local soldiers who died in battle overseas. A ruling against the backers of the monument may have had a ripple effect on hundreds of other war memorials featuring a cross to honor soldiers who have died.

“The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent,” Alito wrote.

“For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices to our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark,” he wrote.

“For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment. For all these reasons, the Cross does not offend the Constitution,” Alito added.

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Frieda Powers

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