The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review lower-court rulings ordering the destruction of a cross memorial in Maryland that honors 49 soldiers who gave their lives during World War I.
The dispute began in 2014 when members of the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit claiming the memorial discriminates against soldiers who were not Christian.
The 40-foot “Peace Cross,” made of granite and cement, was built in 1925 at Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Maryland, and was paid for by local families, businesses and the American Legion.
However, the state later acquired the property and has been paying for maintenance.
The shape was selected for its likeness to cross-shaped grave markers used for soldiers buried in American cemeteries overseas at the time.
A plate at the base lists the names of the 49 soldiers, and there are markers recognizing the American Legion, which raised money for it.
Liberty Counsel, which has defended the cross, said the Supreme Court will consider whether or not a 93-year-old memorial to the fallen of World War I is unconstitutional merely because it is shaped like a cross. The court also will assess the constitutionality of a passive display incorporating religious symbolism under the tests articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, Van Orden v. Perry and Town of Greece v. Galloway.
Thirdly, the justices need to determine whether, if the test from Lemon v. Kurtzman applies, the expenditure of funds for the routine upkeep and maintenance of a cross-shaped war memorial amounts to an excessive entanglement with religion in violation of the First Amendment.
Under the Lemon test, a religious symbol on government property such as a cross must have a secular legislative purpose; its principal or primary effect must that it neither advances nor inhibits religion; and it must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia once said the Lemon decision was a “ghoul” brought out to scare people while others, including Justice Clarence Thomas, have said it was an inadequate decision.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel said the Lemon test and other “unworkable manmade tests” should be abandoned.
Staver said the cross case “is significant, and the fact the Supreme Court decided to take up the case provides hope that bad precedent on the Establishment Clause will finally be overruled.”
“I am hopeful the Supreme Court will jettison old precedent that causes so much damage and confusion to the Establishment Clause,” he said. “In 2005, the court issued two Ten Commandment cases on the same day, using the ‘Lemon Test’ in one case and no test in the other case. It is past time the court return to the Constitution and abandon unworkable manmade tests.”
WND reported earlier this year that Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Paul Niemeyer, who dissented from his court’s condemnation of the cross, had issued a warning.
He said if that cross is condemned and destroyed, hundreds of crosses at war memorials across the nation are at risk.
The judge said the ruling not only violates [precedent], it also needlessly puts at risk hundreds of monuments with similar symbols standing on public grounds across the country, such as those in nearby Arlington National Cemetery.”
“Because this ruling has such far-reaching and unnecessary consequences, it should be reheard by our court en banc, and I dissent from the vote not to do so.”
The non-profit legal group First Liberty also has been fighting the lawsuit filed by atheists who contend the presence of the cross on government property violates the First Amendment.
The cross is owned and run by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The commission was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1927, but its board is appointed by Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
The humanists were joined by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in their efforts to destroy the cross.