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News Alert: Bladensburg Cross Decision

Jun 20, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a 40-foot cross honoring those who died during World War I, will remain standing. However, the High Court sidestepped the opportunity to overturn the so-called "Lemon Test," sometimes used to determine if a law violates the First Amendment Establishment Clause.

Liberty Counsel, the parent organization of Faith & Liberty, previously filed an amicus brief to the High Court in support of the 93-year-old war memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland that the American Humanist Association challenged as violating the Establishment Clause and "discriminating against patriotic soldiers who are not Christian." Both lower court decisions previously ruled that the cross violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The "Peace Cross" was built in 1925 as a tribute to local men who died during World War I. It was paid for by local families, businesses, and the American Legion. The memorial cross sits on a piece of land that has been owned since 1961 by a state commission which pays for its maintenance and upkeep. It stands at Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1, approximately five miles from the U.S. Supreme Court. The shape of the "Peace Cross" was selected to bear a likeness to cross-shaped grave markers used for soldiers buried in American cemeteries overseas. A plaque on the base of the cross lists the names of 49 soldiers and both faces of the cross have a circle with the symbol of the American Legion, the veterans' organization that helped raise money to build it.

Photo Source: Religion News ServicePhoto Source: Religion News Service

Though the High Court ruled in favor of the "Peace Cross," it sidestepped the opportunity to overrule the Lemon v. Kurtzman, in which the Court previously ruled that a Rhode Island law that paid some of the salary of some parochial school teachers was unconstitutional. This test has proven to be unworkable and has led to inconsistent and contradictory decisions on the constitutionality of 10 Commandment monuments and cross monuments like the "Peace Cross." Liberty Counsel previously argued that the "Lemon Test" should be replaced with an objective test that would yield clear and consistent results. The new test would analyze displays based upon history, whether the symbol is ubiquitous and whether the display is coercive, i.e., is actively trying to proselytize or push a particular religious belief.