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The cross goes to court

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a case about a giant cross in Maryland that could affect public monuments and displays throughout the United States.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) sued the American Legion and the Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission over a 40-foot cross memorial in Bladensburg, Md., that an American Legion post erected in 1925 to honor local men who died in World War I. The Maryland–National Capital Park and Planning Commission has maintained the monument since 1961 with the help of public funds.

The Bladensburg cross stood for nearly a century before the AHA sued. A U.S. District Court judge in Maryland ruled the memorial could stay in 2015, but a three-judge panel from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the cross a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from establishing an official religion or unduly favoring one religion over another.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t reverse the ruling, the memorial must be removed.

The case raises two main questions: First, is displaying and maintaining the cross unconstitutional, and second, what test should the court use to decide?

Attorney Monica Miller, representing the AHA, argued that the way the cross is being used in Bladensburg offends just about everyone, including Christians. She said that as a sacred symbol of one religion, the cross does not honor the dead of other religions nor those who followed no religion.

Miller fielded questions about whether governments would have to remove all religious symbols if her clients win and had a tough time articulating an easy test to figure out which symbols get to stay and which ones have to go.

The lawyer for the American Legion, Michael Carvin, argued for simplicity: Expand the court’s prior ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which allowed religious prayers before town hall meetings. Under that ruling, religious symbols are fine as long as they don’t cross over into “proselytizing.”

“All symbols are sectarian, and if you ban sectarian symbols then you are necessarily banning all religious symbols, which evinces hostility and is in stark tension with the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clause,” Carvin said.

Read more at World Mag. 

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