40-Foot 'Peace Cross' Doesn't Violate U.S. Constitution Aug 22, 2019 17:53:07 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Aug 22, 2019 17:53:07 GMT -5
40-Foot ‘Peace Cross’ Doesn’t Violate U.S. Constitution
World War I, also called The Great War and the War to End All Wars, ended November 11, 1918, in the midst of the Spanish influenza pandemic. Because of catastrophic losses from both the war and the deadly disease, it wasn’t until the following year that a group of bereaved mothers in Bladensburg, Maryland, came together and determined to establish a monument honoring their sons who had given their lives in the service of their country.
The result is the 40-foot Peace Cross, dedicated in 1925, that stands to this day in a busy median in downtown Bladensburg. The words valor, endurance, courage and devotion are carved at the base of the cross and the names of the 49 fallen heroes of Prince George’s County are displayed on a bronze plaque, along with a quote by President Woodrow Wilson: “The right is more precious than peace. We shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest our hearts. To such a task we dedicate our lives.”
Who could object to a monument established by grief-stricken mothers and dedicated to men who made the ultimate sacrifice? Answer: The American Humanist Association (AHA), an organization, that, according to its website, strives “to bring about a progressive society where being good without a god is an accepted and respected way to live life.”
In its war on all things sacred, the atheist advocacy group filed a lawsuit charging the Peace Cross violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Judge Deborah Chasanow of the U.S. District Court of Maryland ruled the cross was, in fact secular, honored all fallen soldiers and therefore, was not in violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
The AHA appealed the decision and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed Judge Chasanow’s ruling and ordered the Peace Cross either be altered so that it no longer resembled a cross, or razed.
Both the American Legion and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission appealed the decision and on June 20, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the 40-foot cross, erected almost a century ago as a World War I memorial, is not an endorsement of Christianity and may remain on public land.
“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,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority decision. “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine, will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.” The ruling protects what Alito called similar “ceremonial, celebratory or commemorative” monuments. “Where monuments, symbols, and practices with a longstanding history follow in the tradition of the First Congress in respecting and tolerating different views, endeavoring to achieve inclusivity and nondiscrimination, and recognizing the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans, they are likewise constitutional,” he concluded.
The vote was 7-2, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
Other justices wrote separately, justifying additional reasons for allowing the cross to stand, with Justice Clarence Thomas calling it “clearly constitutional” despite any and all religious connotations. Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh declared it should survive based on “history, tradition and precedent” and Justice Neil Gorsuch indicated the challengers did not even have legal standing to sue.
Justice Stephen Breyer, however, said the cross essentially was being grandfathered in, but “a newer memorial, erected under different circumstances, would not necessarily be permissible.”
Sources: Amanda Tyler, Religious News Service, June 24, 2019; Richard Wolf, USA Today, June 20, 2019; The American Legion; and The City of Bladensburg, Maryland.