The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a 40-foot, cross-shaped war memorial on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland, can continue to stand.
The decision was 7-2, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
The 16-ton, Latin cross, dubbed the “Peace Cross,” has stood since 1925 in honor of 49 Bladensburg-area men who died during World War I.
In 2014, the American Humanist Association demanded that the monument be removed from public property or modified into a nonreligious memorial. The group argued that the cross violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Ultimately, the Court determined that despite the religious significance of crosses in general, this particular memorial does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but the fact should not bind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s opinion. “A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine, will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.
“Where monuments, symbols and practices with a longstanding history follow in the tradition of the First Congress in respecting and tolerating different views, endeavoring to achieve inclusivity and nondiscrimination, and recognizing the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans, they are likewise constitutional.”
First Liberty Institute intervened early on in the case on behalf of The American Legion, whose seal is prominently displayed at the memorial’s center. After five years of fighting to preserve the memorial, defenders of the Peace Cross finally found favor in the country’s top court.
“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty, after the Court’s decision was announced. “Our Founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history and symbols.”
Franklin Graham wrote on Facebook: “This was clearly the correct constitutional decision. Secularists wanted the 40-foot cross in Maryland removed, and in 2017 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which was dominated by liberal, activist judges, ruled that it was unconstitutional. They were wrong.
“This is another example of how important judges at both the state and federal level are. The President and Senate approve judges. Judges matter and, clearly, elections matter. Please continue to pray for our country’s governance. I’m grateful that now this cross—nearly a century old—will continue to stand.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, also weighed in on the Court’s ruling and vowed to keep standing up for issues of religious liberty. “We’re grateful for the result the Supreme Court delivered today—but we’ll continue to push the Court to correct the confusion that’s been used to scrub religious messages, signs and symbols from public life.”