You can read a more thorough analysis of today’s 7-2 decision right here, but the bottom line is that the Supreme Court said the Bladensburg Peace Cross in Maryland is constitutional — and not an illegal endorsement of Christianity — mostly because it’s so old that people no longer treat it as a Christian symbol.
I repeat: SCOTUS says this eyesore below is somehow not promoting Christianity:
A number of church/state separation groups have issued statements reacting to the disappointing (albeit expected) decision.
The American Humanist Association (which filed the lawsuit and argued the case):
“After our earlier victory, our opponents took this case to the post-Kennedy Supreme Court hoping for a complete upheaval of the separation of church and state,” explained Monica Miller, senior counsel at the American Humanist Association (AHA). “Fortunately, the Lemon test and decades of precedent have not been overruled in the vast majority of relevant instances.”
“In the face of today’s decision, we must all pursue new avenues to bolster the First Amendment,” noted AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “Our legislative efforts will be redoubled as the American Humanist Association works to strengthen the wall of separation between church and state, brick by brick. And in the interim, our legal team do what it can will to narrow the breadth of this decision in courtrooms across the country.”
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (which submitted an amicus brief):
“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. 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. 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.
“The Supreme Court’s decision elevates an outdated custom above the religious freedom that our Constitution guarantees to all Americans.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.”
“Rather than uphold the Establishment Clause, the bedrock principle of liberal democracy that bars the state from endorsing religion, this Supreme Court is clearly determined to see it ripped from the Constitution and thrown in the trash,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “The very suggestion that a gigantic cross, maintained by taxpayers, and looming ominously over the landscape does not imply an endorsement of Christianity is utter madness. That this Orwellian redefinition of facts and language has been sanctified by the highest court in the land is simply frightening.”
“No symbol represents Christianity more fully and obviously than the Latin cross,” continued Little. “To those driving in Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, this cross stands stark and alone as a public declaration of the Christian nature of government. It dismisses the equal citizenship not only of those Marylanders who hold a different faith or none at all, but also callously ignores the sacrifice of countless military personnel who were atheist or non-Christian. The wall of separation now has a 40-foot cross-shaped hole in it.”
“Just as the nonreligious have become the largest ‘faith’ category in the country, the U.S. Supreme Court is aggressively moving away from a stance that has served this nation and its pluralism well: requiring government to avoid the appearance of promoting religion,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “The Court has now given government at all levels across the country the green light to proclaim a preference for religion — Christianity in particular. Taking the money of nonreligious taxpayers to maintain a giant cross violates the principles of church-state separation–principles the Roberts Court appears intent on abandoning.”
“Justice Alito’s fumbling, awkward attempt at making a religious cross secular is little more than Christian favoritism at the expense of long-standing Establishment Clause precedent,” responded American Atheists’ Vice President for Legal and Policy Alison Gill. “However Alito may try to spin it, using taxpayer funds to maintain a 40-foot-tall Christian cross on government property is an endorsement of Christianity.”
“‘The passage of time’ in no way transforms an unconstitutional religious symbol into a permissible monument. The longer these discriminatory and exclusionary symbols remain, the greater the impact on those who are excluded,” she added.
“With this decision, the Supreme Court is dishonoring atheist and religious minority veterans, ignoring their contributions, and cheapening their sacrifice,” said Nick Fish, American Atheists’ President. “The preeminent symbol of one religious group can never represent our diverse and pluralistic society. This decision is yet another example of the Court extending favored status to one religion at the expense of the rights of the tens of millions of atheists and members of minority religions in the United States.”
“Taxpayers are footing the bill for a 40-foot tall cross that is, as Justice Ginsburg said in her dissent, a symbol that ‘was never perceived as an appropriate headstone or memorial for Jewish soldiers or others who did not adhere to Christianity,’” added Fish.
It was a troubling sign that the Supreme Court even agreed to review the cross case because an appeals court had properly ruled the cross unconstitutional. “Watch out,” we had warned. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was aware, for instance, that Kavanaugh, the court’s newest justice, had dismissed the Jeffersonian metaphor describing a “wall of separation between state and church” as “wrong as a matter of law and history.”
As we wrote in February, “The constitutional wall of separation has long been chipped away at, bored through, tunneled under, climbed over. But it still stands.” The question is how much damage today’s ruling has inflicted on that revered wall?
The Supreme Court abandoned its sacred duty today: Its duty to uphold the secular principles in our Constitution. The justices seem to have forgotten that when they took their oath of office, they placed their hand on the bible and swore to uphold the Constitution — not the other way around. What a shameful legacy for the Roberts Court.
“The Court’s decision holding that the Bladensburg cross is constitutional relies heavily on the particular history of that memorial. The splintered decision shows how difficult it is to reconcile the government’s promise of religious liberty for all while upholding a massive Latin cross on government land.
BJC is pleased that the Court did not accept the extreme arguments put forth by the government and its allies. The Court did not abandon the First Amendment’s promise of neutrality among faiths. It also specifically acknowledged the cross as a Christian symbol, not a universal symbol of sacrifice.
Important for our pluralistic society, the decision does not support the constitutionality of Christian-only monuments sponsored by government today.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation… will never cease its efforts to lead the way in highlighting how the egregious holdings in this case significantly contrast with the always tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic culture of the U.S. armed forces.
Neither the American military, nor the Veterans Administration (VA), are exclusive arms of Christian supremacy, exclusivity and dominance. In America, we do not judge the value nor valor of a citizen by his or her adherence to solely the Christian faith or any other particular faith or no faith tradition.
Lauren Ell, President of Republican Atheists:
The Supreme Court’s decision for the Bladensburg World War I Memorial to remain standing is a victory for preserving American history. The monument is nearly 100 years old and serves not only as a memorial for brave soldiers who fell in battle, but also as a reminder of past values of American society.
This post will be updated as needed.