Secularizing the Sacred? Supreme Court Rules That A Government-Owned Cross In Maryland May Remain In Place.

Author:Boston, Rob

A towering 40-foot-tall cross on public land in Bladensburg, Md., may stay where it is in part because it has taken on secular meaning over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20.

The structure, known as the Bladensburg Cross (or sometimes the "Peace Cross"), has stood in Prince George's County, a northern suburb of Washington, D.C., since 1925. Originally erected by private groups to commemorate locals who died in World War I, it passed into government hands years ago. In the 1980s, it was rededicated as a memorial to all veterans who died in wars.

Critics pointed out, however, that a Latin cross, as the central symbol of Christianity, could not stand for all deceased veterans. The American Humanist Association (AHA), a national group of non-theists based in D.C., filed suit against the cross in 2015. The group won a ruling against government ownership and display of the cross from an appellate court, but the Supreme Court ruling has reversed that decision.

Americans United sharply criticized the high court's 7-2 ruling in American Legion v. American Humanist Association.

"The Supreme Court's misguided decision to allow government to play favorites and prominently display religious symbols as public war memorials dishonors our country's veterans and the fundamental principle of religious freedom they fought and died for," said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. "The towering Bladensburg Cross is an inherently Christian symbol that excludes thousands of non-Christian veterans and ignores the tremendous sacrifices they made.

"Just because something is a tradition doesn't make it right," continued Laser. "In 2019, the court ought to know better than to permit the government to continue causing harm and violating our constitutional principles just because we've always done it that way. "

She concluded, "The Supreme Court's decision elevates an outdated custom above the religious freedom that our Constitution guarantees to all Americans. We urge Maryland and all government officials to do better by their residents by ensuring that public land is inclusive for all, not just for some."

Americans United led a group of 15 religious and civil rights organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. The organizations had urged the Supreme Court to affirm that the Bladensburg Cross is an unconstitutional religious symbol on public property.

The court's decision means that the cross, which stands on a traffic...

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