America is still America. History still counts – thank God. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Thursday that Bladensburg, Maryland’s iconic World War I Memorial Cross erected 100 years ago this year, can stand. The majority spoke clearly. The implications are significant.
First, in a time when history is being methodically ignored, disparaged and swept away, the Supreme Court, minus dissents from Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, said emphatically history counts.
The cross was erected on private land, transferred to public land in 1961, and memorializes 49 Americans who died in World War I. It has become a symbol – like other memorial crosses in America – of remembering the profound sacrifice of those who died defending America and preserving our Constitution, including free exercise of religion.
Second, as a result of this ruling, which acknowledges the historic nature, civic function and early roots of memorial crosses, others will now stand. Americans can expect that – by decisively reversing the lower court – hundreds of similar crosses across our land, in places like Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Florida, will stay.
And well they should. The Maryland cross was challenged by a humanist group, which essentially disparaged the cross’s historical roots, civic meaning and place within a society. Notwithstanding the 240 million Americans who call themselves Christian, this historic cross reveres men who fell so that we could live – in freedom.
Public monuments do not compel anything. They simply show respect for those honored. We have erected such monuments – with religious symbols on them – back to our founding.
The irony of course, which seems lost on critics of memorial crosses – whether 100 years old or along roadsides – is that the freedom they enjoy to protest was given by young Americans who died in combat, literally for them.
Finally, the ruling is significant for another reason. America is a land which celebrates the free exercise of religion, while not coercing anyone to become a person of faith or to adopt any particular faith. Public monuments do not compel anything. They simply show respect for those honored. We have erected such monuments – with religious symbols on them – back to our founding.
This ruling is a victory for all Americans because it reminds us how right, good and constitutional it is to honor those who step up for us, selflessly put life and limb at risk, too often losing one or both for us. Whether we do that privately or publicly, with a Memorial Cross or Star of David or any other religious symbol, in a cemetery or park, matters less than preserving the freedom they gave all to pass forward.
That is why defending the Bladensburg Memorial Cross was right, why this Supreme Court ruling will echo, and why all Americans should be comforted by the wisdom that issued from a place filled with religious symbols, across from a Congress working under the words “In God We Trust.” History, including spiritual heritage, still counts – thank God.