The Bladensburg ‘Peace Cross’, the Supreme Court, and Stripping Symbols of Its Religious Meaning

Last September on BreakPoint, we told you about the constitutional challenge to a World War I memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland, known as the “Peace Cross.” The Cross was erected on private land in 1925 by the American Legion. It was to be a memorial to 49 men from that area who died in the Great War. Their names are listed on the plaque at the base of the monument.

In 1961, the state assumed control of the land, and therefore responsibility for the memorial’s maintenance. For more than fifty years, no one protested the Cross’s presence on public land or the state paying for its maintenance.

But in 2014,  the American Humanist Association challenged the constitutionality of the Peace Cross in federal court. They lost the initial case in Federal District Court, but they prevailed at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In October, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and this past Wednesday heard the oral arguments.

There was a lot at stake. If the American Humanist Association prevails, the implications would reach far beyond this memorial in Maryland to any and all memorials on public land everywhere in the country. Any of them with anything resembling a cross or religious symbol of any kind would be fair game.

The justices, or at least most of them, seemed aware of the stakes and a bit skeptical that after all this time the Peace Cross suddenly presented an immediate threat to our republic. Still, some of the justices’ comments were less than a ringing endorsement of the place of religion in the public square. Most notably Justice Elena Kagan, who as Solicitor General defended the presence of a cross in the Mojave National Monument, emphasized the historical context. At the time of its erection in 1925, she pointed out, crosses were common in war memorials and were not intended to convey a specific religious message. As she put it, “All the words on the memorial are words about military valor and so forth. So why in a case like that can we not say essentially the religious content has been stripped of this monument?”

For Kagan, crosses were “the preeminent symbol for how to memorialize the war dead at that time.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera