The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [court website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that a 90-year-old cross shaped monument in Maryland violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [JURIST report].
The monument, erected in 1925 to honor 49 Prince George’s County men who died during World War I, was challenged [complaint, PDF] by the American Humanist Association [advocacy website] in February 2014. A federal judge ruled [JURIST report] in 2015 that the presence and use of the cross was primarily secular, finding that it did not violate the constitution.
The appeals court disagreed:
The monument here has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion. The Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity. And here, it is 40 feet tall; prominently displayed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Prince George’s County, Maryland; and maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds. Therefore, we hold that the purported war memorial breaches the “wall of separation between Church and State.”
Chief Judge Roger Gregory dissented; “I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”
The decision is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has not set a clear standard when it comes to determining religious influenced monuments on public land.