U.S. Supreme Court

Does Peace Cross memorial on government land violate establishment clause?

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Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether a government-maintained monument known as the Peace Cross violates the establishment clause.

The court agreed to consider two consolidated cases challenging the Peace Cross, a 40-foot monument built in 1925 in Bladensburg, Maryland, to honor soldiers who died during World War I. The American Legion helped pay for the monument, but a state commission took over ownership in 1961 and pays for its maintenance. The National Law Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today, the New York Times and SCOTUSblog have coverage.

SCOTUSblog says the addition of the cases to the docket “transforms what had been a relatively sleepy term into one that is likely to draw a good deal of public interest.” The New York Times says the case “will give the court an opportunity to clarify its famously confused jurisprudence on government entanglement with religion.”

One of the plaintiffs is the American Humanist Association, which has the motto “Good Without God.” The American Legion is represented by the First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom organization that also represents two Oregon bakers who refused to bake a custom cake for a gay wedding.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, had ruled the cross is the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity, and the memorial constitutes an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The full court denied en banc review on an 8-6 vote.

The state commission and the American Legion say the cross is a war memorial that has served as a backdrop to patriotic events, and it is primarily secular in nature. Their cert petitions are here and here.

The cases are Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association and The American Legion v. American Humanist Association.

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