WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Supreme Court announced Nov. 2 that it would hear oral arguments this term to consider if a 40-foot cross in Maryland endorses religion or is simply a secular memorial.
The cross in question sits at a busy intersection in the Washington suburb of Bladensburg, Maryland, and memorializes soldiers who died in World War I.
Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond, Virginia, ruled 2-1 that the 93-year-old monument is unconstitutional and must be removed or destroyed. “(It) has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion.”
Known as the Bladensburg Cross or the Peace Cross, the cement and marble memorial was erected by the Snyder-Farmer Post of the American Legion of Hyattsville, Maryland, to recall the 49 men of Prince George’s County who died in World War I. The cross, whose construction was funded by local families, was dedicated July 13, 1925.
The American Humanist Association, a Washington-based group that represents atheists and others, filed suit against the memorial because it is in the shape of a cross. It argued that having a religious symbol on government property violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The group said the cross “discriminates against patriotic soldiers who are not Christian, sending a callous message to non-Christians that Christians are worthy of veneration while they may as well be forgotten.”
Supporters of the Peace Cross stress that its message is secular: to commemorate war victims. They also have argued that the monument’s cross shape was not intended for religious reasons but to look similar to cross-shaped grave markers in Europe used for American soldiers who died there.
This is not the first time the highest court has considered the status of religious monuments on public land. In 2005 it defended a Ten Commandments monument on the property of the Texas Capitol, noting that its religious message was part of a secular display.
In 2009, the court ruled that it was constitutional for the federal government to permit a large cross to stay within the boundaries of a national preserve in the California desert, but because the case also involved the transfer of ownership of a small plot of federal land, the high court sent it back to lower courts for further consideration. In 2012, a federal judge approved a settlement on the transfer issue allowing the cross to remain.
How the Supreme Court rules on this Peace Cross case could impact similar monuments, including crosses at Arlington National Cemetery, the military cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Arguments in this case are expected before the end of the year.
In a time of crisis CatholicPhilly.com keeps the information flowing
During the current coronavirus crisis, you can help CatholicPhilly.com deliver the kind of news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live ― every day.
Budgets are tight at this time, and CatholicPhilly's is no different than those of most families. We make sure your donation in any amount will go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103