Supreme Court Upholds Giant Cross on Public Land in Maryland - NBC Southern California

Supreme Court Upholds Giant Cross on Public Land in Maryland

Justices ruled that its presence on public land doesn't violate the First Amendment's establishment clause. That clause prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Supreme Court Says Peace Cross Can Stay

    A 40-foot-tall peace cross in Prince George's County can remain standing where it is, the Supreme Court ruled. News4's Tracee Wilkins reports. (Published Thursday, June 20, 2019)

    A 40-foot-tall, World War I memorial 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 said preserving a long-standing religious monument is very different from allowing the building of a new one. And the court concluded that the nearly 100-year-old memorial's presence on a grassy highway median doesn't violate the Constitution's prohibition on the government favoring one religion over others. Seven of the court's nine justices sided with the cross' backers, a lineup that crossed ideological lines.

    The case had been closely watched for its potential impact on other monuments. Defenders of the cross in Bladensburg, a suburb of the nation's capital, had argued that a ruling against them could doom hundreds of war memorials that use crosses to commemorate soldiers who died.

    But the case was also seen as an indication of how far the court's conservative majority would be willing to go in approving of religious symbols in public life. In the end, a majority of the justices signed on to a relatively narrow ruling, declining to go as far as they had been urged to by some of the cross' defenders.

    Key Moments From Impeachment Hearing

    [NATL] Key Moments From Impeachment Hearing

    Here are key moments as they unfolded during Wednesday’s public impeachment hearings, which included testimony from U.S. diplomat William Taylor and State Department official George Kent.

    (Published Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019)

    Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a majority opinion for himself and four colleagues that "when time's passage imbues a religiously expressive monument, symbol or practice with this kind of familiarly and historical significance, removing It may no longer appear neutral."

    "A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion," Alito wrote

    Alito also wrote that the Maryland cross' connection to World War I was important in upholding it because crosses, which marked the graves of American soldiers, became a symbol closely linked to the war.

    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 memorial, which on its base lists the names of 49 area residents who died in World War I.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, with Ginsburg writing that "the principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion's paramountcy." Ginsburg read a summary of her dissent in court, a way of expressing deep disagreement. Ginsburg is the only other justice on the court who is Jewish. The others are Christian.

    In all, seven justices wrote to explain their views in opinions that totaled some 80 pages, an indication of the depth of feeling the case provoked but also differences in the justices' positions.

    Laughter Erupts After Welch's Trump One-Liner

    [NATL] Laughter Erupts After Welch's Trump One-Liner

    Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., drew a few laughs after his one-line response to Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, during Wednesday's open impeachment hearings.

    (Published Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019)

    The case began as a lawsuit by three people who live near the cross and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, which includes atheists and agnostics. They argued that the memorial should be moved to private property or modified into a nonreligious monument such as a slab or obelisk.

    Monica Miller, the lawyer who argued on behalf of the American Humanist Association at the Supreme Court, said after the decision was announced that while the organization was disappointed, the ruling is "very limited" and "could have been a lot worse."

    Two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, said they would have thrown out the lawsuit by the cross' challengers altogether. Gorsuch wrote that people offended by religious displays shouldn't be able to sue over them. Gorsuch wrote that in "a large and diverse country, offense can be easily found" and that the answer shouldn't be a lawsuit. He pointed out that many Washington buildings including the Supreme Court include religious symbols in their decoration.

    The cross' defenders included the American Legion, which raised money to build the monument, Maryland officials who took over maintenance of the cross nearly 60 years ago and the Trump administration.

    "The Court's decision today is a win for protecting religious freedom and American historical tradition," Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement following the ruling.

    Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, also praised the ruling in a statement as a "great victory."

    Taylor: Ukraine President Knew It Was a ‘Bad Idea’ to Interfere in Other Nations’ Elections’

    [NATL] Taylor: Ukraine President Knew It Was a ‘Bad Idea’ to Interfere in Other Nations’ Elections’

    Ambassador William Taylor said Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was planning to make a public announcement about the “investigations” requested by Trump, even though he considered it a bad idea to involve himself in American politics.

    (Published Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019)

    In the past, similar monuments have met with a mixed fate at the high court. On the same day in 2005, for example, the court upheld a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol while striking down Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses. The setting of the Texas monument among many other monuments was important to the case's outcome, while the displays in Kentucky courthouses were struck down because they were seen as having a religious purpose. Breyer, who voted to uphold the Maryland cross, was justice whose vote was central to both Ten Commandments cases.