Published: Sun, June 23, 2019
Global Media | By Garry Long

Jewish groups, justice object to Supreme Court ruling on giant cross

Jewish groups, justice object to Supreme Court ruling on giant cross

The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that a 40-foot tall Christian cross war memorial that sits on government land does not violate separation of church and state.

"For almost a century, the Bladensburg Cross has expressed the community's grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifice, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought", Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. Democratic appointees Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the ruling, arguing that tearing down the cross is the best way of ensuring neutrality and protecting "civic harmony".

He also said removing the memorial "would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions".

The Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit law firm with a focus on religious liberty, said in a friend-of-the-court brief that the monument's objective was not to advance or inhibit religion but to "honor the dead using a historical symbol of death and sacrifice".

It was a reminder, at the time, of those far-away graves, and it allowed grieving loved ones who never would travel overseas to have a place of remembrance. "For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices for our nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark". He cogently observed that "destroying or defacing the cross that has stood undisturbed for almost a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment".

"The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent", wrote Associate Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined Alito's opinion in full, as did Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh.

"Figure out where you want to draw the line", Justice Elena Kagan said during oral arguments about markers with religious connotations.

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"The Supreme Court rightly recognized that religious symbols are an important part of our nation's history and culture", he said in a statement.

The justices, in ruling 7-2 in favour of the cross's backers, concluded the almost 100-year-old memorial's presence on a grassy highway median doesn't violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favouring one religion over others.

The Lemon test was established in the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman. According to the test, a law is constitutional if it: 1) has a secular objective, 2) neither advances nor inhibits religion, and, 3) doesn't foster government "entanglement" with religion.

Alito said the Lemon test "presents particularly daunting problems" in cases that involve symbols with religious associations when they are used for ceremonial, celebratory or commemorative purposes. Justice Thomas also wrote his own concurring opinion. Thomas restated his view that the Constitution's clause banning establishment of religion does not apply to the states.

The American Humanist Association challenged the placement of the cross, contending that "there is no meaning to the Latin cross, other than Christianity".

"This is the only area I can think of ... where we allow people to sue over an offense because, for them, it is too loud", Gorsuch said.

The high court's ruling is a major victory for religious groups and the American Legion, which warned that if this cross had to be moved, so, too, would other crosses that serve as war memorials.

To the mothers and the veterans of the American Legion who designed and erected the Peace Cross - and to all the war heroes of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars - the Supreme Court decision Thursday sends a loud and clear message: mission accomplished. But he then stressed in a separate opinion that he did not understand that the new ruling would allow government to create or set up new religious symbols on public property - which the three Justices speaking most strongly against the "Lemon test" suggested.

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