Supreme Court to Decide if the Peace Cross is a Religious Symbol or Secular

The WWI monument in question is located in Maryland.

There are indications the Supreme Court of the United States may rule that the 83-year-old 40-foot-tall WWI memorial cross monument could be allowed to stand on public land. The court may say the memorial could be a constitutional one but may stop from any sweeping ruling. There was an hour-long debate on the issue in this case of American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The debate did not merely put forward the question of whether the memorial named “Peace Cross” was constitutional, but also whether the monument can be regarded as a secular structure.

The case is important and being closely watched as it brings to consideration the position of religious symbols within the sphere of public life. The memorial in question is nearly a century old and stands in a median in Bladensburg City, a suburb of Washington, D.C. It serves as a memorial to those area residents who fought in the First World War and died in the battlefield.

The Maryland parks agency now maintains the cross and Neal Katyal, the lawyer who represented the agency, gave an argument to the high court justices that the historical marker solely serves a secular aim where it honors those who lost their lives in the horrific war. He said that such crosses have a secular meaning independent from other structures. The Justice Department subsequently shared this defense. Jeffrey Wall, the acting solicitor general, appeared as a friend of the court. He put forward his argument that to opine the cross has only religious meaning condemns every cross found in public land.

Though the panel of Justices seemed willing to accept the argument of this specific cross becoming a historic memorial, the defense of it being transformed into a secular symbol was rejected. Justice Elena Kagan pointed out the cross could be regarded as one of the most important symbols of Christianity. She said the cross invokes Christianity’s central tenet of Jesus Christ dying on his cross for sins done by humanity. The Son of God later came back from the dead. For Christians, the cross is a memorial to those who died. Sonia Sotomayor, another Justice, agreed with Kagan, saying that devout Christians may even consider blasphemy if the cross becomes a secular symbol.

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