The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a church-state case that could have a dramatic impact on religious-themed monuments and war memorial crosses across the country.
The case involves a 93-year-old cross-shaped World War I memorial in Bladensburg, Md., that was erected in 1925 but has been targeted in the courts by the American Humanist Association, which claims it violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on government established religion.
A U.S. district judge upheld the memorial as constitutional, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year ruled the nearly 100-year-old cross must be removed.
It will be the first major church-state case heard by the Supreme Court with new Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the bench and could bring clarity to the legal landscape.
The case is “The American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association et al.” The legal group First Liberty Institute is representing The American Legion, which helped erect the cross.
“There are some who want to erase the memory of the service and sacrifice of these 49 fallen servicemen of Prince George’s County,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty. “If this monument is bulldozed to the ground, it’s only a matter of time before the wrecking ball turns on Arlington National Cemetery and the thousands of memorials like this one across the country.”
The cross honors 49 Prince George’s County (Md.) men who died during World War I.
Alliance Defense Freedom sided with the American Legion and filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court. ADF is representing six veterans groups and Major General Patrick Brady, a Medal of Honor recipient.
The ruling by the Fifth Circuit and others like it, ADF says in its brief, “chills” the effort by the veterans groups “to honor veterans by erecting new memorials.” One proposed memorial would include a quote from Jesus: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” But supporters of the proposed monument don’t know if the courts would allow it to stand, ADF argues.
“Amici have a strong interest in this Court providing a clear and consistent legal standard for analyzing passive displays under the Establishment Clause,” the ADF brief says. “This clarity is needed so that Amici can erect new veterans’ memorials without fear of legal reprisal and those charged with maintaining existing memorials may protect them from extinction.”
Left-leaning websites are predicting a victory for American Legion. The liberal website ThinkProgress posted a story warning that the court “could nuke the separation of church and state” and that the case “will almost certainly be a victory for the religious right.”
The Supreme Court did not set a date for oral arguments, although it likely will be in a few months.
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com
Photo courtesy: First Liberty
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.