High court’s cross case could affect monuments nationally
Published 8:28 am Friday, March 1, 2019
WASHINGTON — A 40-foot-tall, concrete cross on public land in a Maryland suburb of Washington is at the center of a case before the Supreme Court. But similar monuments elsewhere in the country could be affected by the high court ruling, states have told the justices.
The District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, which is behind the challenge to the Maryland cross, acknowledges that at least a handful of other monuments around the country could be affected if the court sides with them, though they disagree with those supporting the cross that the number is vast.
The monuments most likely to be affected are large crosses on public, not private, lands and where there’s a prominent cross that isn’t part of a larger memorial or setting such as a cemetery, said Monica Miller, an American Humanist Association attorney.
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By the same token, those monuments could be insulated from challenges if the other side prevails, as many observers think is likely given the court’s conservative makeup.
A look at the cross at the center of the case and cross memorials in other states:
If the justices wanted to take a field trip to see the cross at the center of the case, it wouldn’t be hard. The cross is located on a large, grassy traffic median in Bladensburg, about 5 miles from the Supreme Court.
Sometimes called the “Peace Cross,” it was completed in 1925. A plaque on the base of the cross lists the names of 49 soldiers from the area who died in World War I.
While a trial court judge ruled the memorial was constitutional, an appeals court disagreed. Those challenging the cross are telling the Supreme Court that it should be moved to private property or modified into a slab or obelisk. They also note that the nearly 100-year-old monument has been deteriorating. Chunks have fallen off and restoration work planned years ago has been put off while the case has moved forward.
A 34-foot-tall concrete cross in Pensacola’s Bayview Park has been the site of a sunrise Easter service for decades.
The first Easter service was organized at the site in 1941. A wooden cross was put up for the gathering, which was organized by the local Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1969, however, the group installed the concrete cross that stands today. Lighting and maintaining the cross costs Pensacola around $200 a year.
Four people sued over the cross in 2016. They have the backing of the American Humanist Association, the same group behind the cross lawsuit now before the Supreme Court, and the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. Two lower courts have ruled against the cross.
A cross near Lyons, Kansas, honors Father Juan de Padilla, a 16th century Franciscan missionary. Installed in 1950, the cross was a gift to the state by the Knights of Columbus.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter in 2018 objecting to the cross, asking that it be removed or moved to private property.
A bronze cross on a concrete pedestal stands in the town plaza in the center of Taos. Paid for by private donations and dedicated in 1960, the cross is part of a memorial honoring young men from the area who fought and died in World War II. Beside the cross are flagpoles flying the flags of the United States and New Mexico, and in front of the cross is a sculpture of three soldiers.
The town says it has been threatened with lawsuits similar to the one currently before the Supreme Court. If the high court doesn’t side with supporters of the Maryland cross, Taos told the justices, it would “virtually guarantee Taos would be drawn into costly and unjust litigation to remove its memorial.”