An old, rugged cross that has stood on public land in a Washington, D.C., suburb for almost a century has been deemed unconstitutional by a federal court.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday (Oct. 18) that the so-called Peace Cross violates the establishment clause of the Constitution with “excessive religious entanglement.”
“The Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity,” the court wrote in a 33-page opinion. “And here, it is 40 feet tall; prominently displayed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds.”
The cross is planted in the town of Bladensburg, a short drive from the U.S. Capitol, at the intersection of a state road and a federal road, and commemorates World War I veterans.
But the three-member court was not unanimous in its ruling. The dissenting judge, Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory, wrote in his opinion that the establishment clause does not require “purging” religion from the public sphere, but requires only governmental “neutrality” about religion.
“In my view,” the chief justice wrote, the court’s ruling ” … confuses maintenance of a highway median and monument in a state park with excessive religious entanglement.”
The suit against the cross was brought by the American Humanist Association and was supported by the Center for Inquiry and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, three national secularist organizations.