By Elizabeth Zwirz
Published November 02, 2018
The case regarding whether or not a Maryland war memorial in the shape of a cross goes against a separation of church and state was accepted for final review by Supreme Court justices on Friday.
The controversial memorial, which stands in Bladensburg, Maryland, was previously deemed to be in violation of the Constitution by a federal appeals court in Virginia, who determined that it “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion.”
In petitioning the nation’s highest court to take the case, Maryland officials who maintain the monument, otherwise known as the “Peace Cross,” insisted that what it’s meant to honor proves that its purpose is to portray a secular message of remembrance, not one of religion.
Should the appeals court’s decision be allowed to stand, it could potentially affect hundreds of similar monuments across the country and would force “the removal or dismemberment of a cherished war memorial that has served as a site of solemn commemoration and civic unity for nearly a century,” the officials said.
The cross, finished in 1925, was erected in remembrance of 49 local men who died in World War I. A plaque on the cross' base lists the names of those soldiers, and both faces of the cross have a circle with the symbol of the American Legion, the veterans organization that helped raise money to build it.
The memorial’s location is roughly five miles from the Supreme Court.
Those in favor of the statue argued that earlier Supreme Court rulings determined that monuments, particularly longstanding ones, which incorporate religious symbolism to send a secular message did not go against the Constitution.
The shape of the “Peace Cross,” which they maintain falls into that category, was picked as a means to bear a likeness to cross-shaped grave markers used for soldiers buried in American cemeteries overseas, supporters said.
The American Humanist Association, the group against the memorial who, along with three local residents, filed a 2014 lawsuit against Maryland officials, argue that the symbol "discriminates against patriotic soldiers who are not Christian, sending a callous message to non-Christians that Christians are worthy of veneration while they may as well be forgotten."
The organization attempted to persuade the Supreme Court against hearing the case, arguing that the appeals court's ruling is specific to the Bladensburg memorial and doesn't threaten any other monuments.
Arguments for the case are expected to be heard in early 2019.