November 2018 Church & State - November 2018

Supreme Court Asked To Hear Maryland Cross Case

  Rob Boston

A dispute over the display of a 40-foot cross in Bladensburg, Md., may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The so-called “Peace Cross” was erected in 1925 by the American Legion and people who lived in the area on what was then private land as a memorial to residents of Prince George’s County who died in World War I. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission took possession of the land in 1961 and currently owns the cross and maintains the site where it is displayed along a busy intersection in the Washington, D.C., suburb.

Representing local plaintiffs, the American Humanist Association (AHA) sued over the religious symbol’s display. The group argued that government ownership and maintenance of a sectarian symbol violates separation of church and state. It also pointed out that the cross, as the predominant symbol of the Christian faith, can’t memorialize all war dead.

“The government can’t prefer one religion over another, and it certainly can’t do so by placing a 40-foot Christian cross in the middle of a busy highway intersection,” Monica Miller, senior counsel for the AHA, told the D.C.-area radio station WTOP.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in American Humanist Association v. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission that the government’s display of the cross is unconstitutional. But a group of Maryland legislators, including Gov. Larry Hogan (R), has asked the Supreme Court to take the case. Hogan called the ruling against display of the cross “an affront to all veterans.”

As this issue of Church & State went to press, the matter was still pending on the high court’s docket.

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