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.