The US Supreme Court has ruled that the cross in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Constitution. This memorial to World War I fallen, has stood for 94 years and the court ruled that it was historical, and represented a memorial to the fallen of that conflict. When I wrote about this earlier this year, I was unsure how the court would rule, but if it ruled in the affirmative, the ruling would be narrow, a 5-4 vote on conservative and liberal justices lines. In fact, the ruling was 7-2 with only Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor in dissent.
Here is the crux of the decision:
Is this the correct decision in that past rulings have prevented religious belief from being represented on public land? Of course there will be some that say no, but being that the ruling is not simply on ideological lines may ameliorate most objections. Does this mean that we’ll see Christian Crosses suddenly pop up everywhere on public land? Doubtful because the ruling is narrow and based on the historicity of the monument and as can be seen above, the court recognizes that it is indeed a Christian symbol, but other factors mitigate it as not being a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Justice Ginsburg, writing the dissent wrote:
As I see it, when a cross is displayed on public property, the government may be presumed to endorse its religious content. The venue is surely associated with the State; the symbol and its meaning are just as surely associated exclusively with Christianity
On the whole, I believe she is correct, but then should we require that every religiously based monument that may reside on public property be taken down that has some historical context? This is why I don’t view this ruling as having any affect overall on the Establishment Clause because those would be few and far between. There are many that would argue the opposite in that any religious symbol, of any religion should not be given a preference by the government and again, I would agree. I just don;’t see this ruling in that way.
Cities may still display Nativity Scenes on public land during Christmas; They cannot, however, deny any other group, on the same land, from displays of other beliefs concurrently, the idea being that all religious and non-religious groups are treated equally. Still, as I wrote in the last piece, i do expect to hear various atheist and secular groups crying doom and gloom over this ruling although being that the vote wasn’t narrow, it’s going to be difficult to claim that we’re slowly turning into a theocracy.
I think there has to be a happy medium somewhere since there is a majority of people in this country that identify with one religion or another (mostly Christian). I think this ruling satisfies that: It’s not a victory for Christianity, as they’ll surely want to say, and it’s not a loss for secularists. It’s an historical monument and if it were Jewish, Muslim, or any other religion represented, I believe the ruling would have been similar.