WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seems inclined to rule that a 40-foot-tall cross that stands on public land in Maryland is constitutional, but shy away from a sweeping ruling.
The high court on Wednesday heard over an hour of arguments in the case about the World War I memorial sometimes referred to as the “Peace Cross.”
Conservative justices as well as at least two liberal justices seemed to suggest that the nearly 100-year-old memorial doesn’t run afoul of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others.
The justices seemed inclined to find that the age of the monument and the cross’ special connection to World War I as a symbol associated with war dead made it acceptable.
The memorial stands on a grassy highway median in Bladensburg, Maryland, just outside Washington.
Some of the liberal justices suggested in their questioning of lawyers defending the cross that they could join a narrow ruling upholding its display, even though they talked about the cross as a major symbol of Christianity.
The bigger question might be whether there are enough votes to rule in a way that would allow governments to erect more religious symbols on public property.
Several conservative justices sounded skeptical of the broadest approach, advocated by the lawyer for the American Legion. The veterans’ organization raised money for the cross and completed it in 1925.
The cross’ challengers argue that its location on public land violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others.