Jerry Newcombe: A Cross in the Crosshairs

Last week’s cross decision was a major case for religious liberty. Perhaps it even spells the death knell of the so-called Lemon Test…an aptly-named decision from the early 1970s that has often been used against any religious expression in the public square.

The Supreme Court ruled that a 40-foot memorial cross in the state of Maryland was not unconstitutional. The cross was built beginning in 1919 to commemorate many soldiers from Prince George’s County who died in service to their country in World War I.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) sued to have the cross torn down. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (out of Richmond, Virginia) agreed with the AHA, and the cross had a sentence of death hanging over it. First Liberty Institute, which fights for religious liberty (including many military-oriented cases), fought to save the cross, on behalf of the American Legion. Perhaps surprisingly, the Supreme Court decided by a comfortable 7-2 margin.

The author of the decision was Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote, “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.”

Writing for the dissenting minority—just herself and Justice Sonia Sotomayor—Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued: “the principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion’s paramountcy.”

After the victory, I interviewed constitutional attorney Jeremy Dys for a radio segment. Dys serves as the Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty, the legal organization that helped procure the victory on behalf of the American Legion.

Dys told me, “It’s a landmark victory for religious freedom….Whatever detractors are saying, they no longer have a tool in their arsenal so they can twist the establishment clause of the Constitution to render memorials like this Bladensburg World War I veterans memorial obsolete and then take a wrecking ball to it.”

The establishment clause, of course, is the first part of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” For the last several decades, the establishment clause has been invoked to censor out virtually any religious content in the public arena.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jerry Newcombe