A final decision on the fate of a cross-shaped World War I memorial veterans in Maryland won’t be made until the summer, but the Supreme Court appears to be in favor of keeping it in place–on public land–which opponents say is a violation of separation of Church and State.
The high court on Wednesday heard over 60 minutes of oral arguments about the memorial that is sometimes called the “Peace Cross.” During questioning of lawyers defending the cross, some of the court’s liberal judges seemed to imply that they could support a narrow ruling that would uphold the display.
The American Legion raised money for the cross and completed its construction in 1925. The names of 49 area residents who died during World War I are listed on the cross’ base. The State of Maryland took over the management of the site in 1960.
Bladensburg resident Steven C. Lowe, two other area residents, and the American Humanist Association mounted a legal challenge against the cross in 2014, arguing that its location on public land is a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which bars the government from favoring one religion over another. The group lost its first court battle, but in 2017 an appeals court ruled the cross was unconstitutional. That led supporters of the cross, including The American Legion, the State of Maryland, the Trump Administration and 30 other states to ask the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.
“I think it was a violation of the Constitution when it was built,” Lowe said. “The fact that it is old doesn’t make it right. It’s an old wrong.”
Speaking recently at an American Legion Post near the cross, member Stan Shaw said that modifying it would be “a slap in a veteran’s face.”
According to supporters, the cross does not violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning – honoring veterans – and is located in an area where there are other veteran memorials. But, the American Humanist Association counters that just because a cross is being used as a war memorial does not mean it is secular. It just means the memorial is Christian.
Cross supporters also argue that if the Supreme Court rules against them that could threaten other monuments across the nation.
But opponents counter that the cross should be relocated to private property or changed into a nonreligious monument like a slab or obelisk.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.