As this issue of Church & State was going to press, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a large cross owned by local governments and displayed on public land in Bladensburg, Md., may remain.
In a June 20 opinion, the justices ruled that the Peace Cross, which was erected in 1925 to honor veterans of World War I, is historic and thus may stand.
The opinion was written by Justice Samuel A. Alito, who argued that the cross had become secularized over time.
“With sufficient time, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices can become embedded features of a community’s landscape and identity,” Alito wrote. “The community may come to value them without necessarily embracing their religious roots.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, agreed with the high court’s conclusion but rejected some of the reasoning of the majority. They wrote, “The case would be different, in my view, if there were evidence that the organizers had ‘deliberately disrespected’ members of minority faiths or if the Cross had been erected only recently, rather than in the aftermath of World War I.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented entirely, holding that the government’s display of a Christian symbol is unconstitutional.
“By maintaining the Peace Cross on a public highway, the Commission elevates Christianity over other faiths, and religion over nonreligion,” they wrote.
Look for analysis of the decision in September’s Church & State.