The Supreme Court of the United States in a 7-2 decision held on Thursday that the 40 foot tall Bladensburg Memorial Cross is Constitutional, does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, and does not have to be removed, in a reversal of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s decision. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor joined in a dissenting opinion.
Writing for the majority Justice Alito explained,
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. For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who
never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment. For all these reasons, the Cross does not offend the Constitution.
In their dissent, Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor argued that,
Decades ago, this Court recognized that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution demands governmental neutrality among religious faiths, and between religion and nonreligion. Numerous
times since, the Court has reaffirmed the Constitution’s commitment to neutrality. Today the Court erodes that neutrality commitment, diminishing precedent designed to preserve individual liberty and civic harmony in favor of a presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices.
Concurring in part and dissenting in part, Justice Thomas said that “the Court’s opinion does not adequately clarify the appropriate standard for Establishment Clause cases.” Justice Thomas disagreed with the use of the so-called “Lemon Test,” used by the Fourth Circuit, saying “…it is not good law, we ought to say so.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in a statement said,
This is a great victory after we fought tirelessly to keep the Peace Cross standing in recognition of the valor, endurance, courage, and devotion of our World War I veterans. Today’s ruling ensures that this memorial—a dignified tribute to those who came before us and made the ultimate sacrifice—will stand tall and proud for the ages. “I was honored to help lead this fight on behalf of our veterans, and I am proud that Marylanders and Americans will be able to visit the Peace Cross in Bladensburg for years to come.
The American Humanist Association’s Executive Director Roy Speckhardt, whose organization fought against the Bladensburg Memorial Cross, said in a statement, “In the face of today’s decision, we must all pursue new avenues to bolster the First Amendment.”