A large cross in Bladensburg, Maryland has been a source of controversy for years as we awaited the Supreme Court's decision on whether the symbol can continue to stand. A local post of The American Legion erected the Bladensburg Peace Cross in 1925. To most, the statue was dedicated to the memory of 49 local heroes who gave their lives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in WWI. To the Humanist Association, it was an unconstitutional eyesore. They sued in 2014 arguing the cross violated the Establishment Clause and demanded its removal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs and declared the cross unconstitutional.
First Liberty Institute, representing the American Legion, asked the Supreme Court to overturn that decision. And on Thursday, they did. It was a 7-2 decision, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. Justice Samuel Alito offered the majority opinion.
"Although the cross has long been a preeminent Christian symbol, its use in the Bladensburg memorial has a special significance," Alito writes.
You can read the full opinion here.
“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom," said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel to First Liberty. "The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over. Our Founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history, and symbols. The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”
Judicial Crisis Network's Chief Counsel and Policy Director, Carrie Severino, had a similar reaction.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision to stop militant atheists from tearing down the historic ‘Peace Cross’ memorial is a major win for religious liberty, although it didn’t go as far as several conservative judges wanted to overrule muddled and discredited First Amendment precedents,” she said in a statement.
The American Legion v. American Humanist Association will now go back to the lower courts.
This piece has been updated with additional information.