A World War I memorial in the shape of a 40-foot-tall cross can continue to stand on public land in Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in an important decision about the use of religious symbols in American life.
The justices, ruling 7-2 in favor of the cross’ backers, said preserving a long-standing religious monument is very different from allowing the building of a new one. The court concluded that the nearly 100-year-old memorial’s presence on a grassy highway median doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others.
In his ruling, Justice Alito wrote “The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent.
“For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices to our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment. For all these reasons, the Cross does not offend the Constitution,” he added.
Two of the court’s liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, both of whom are Jewish, joined their conservative colleagues in ruling for the cross. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Also Jewish, wrote the “principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion’s paramountcy.” She was joined with Justice Sonia Sotomayor.