Trump admin urges SCOTUS to protect Peace Cross

December 28, 2018

President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court to protect an almost century-old war memorial in the shape of a cross from being removed by politically correct leftists.

A liberal group filed a lawsuit to have the Maryland memorial, which sits on public property, taken down. It’s just the latest attempt by the left to have Christian imagery expunged from the public sphere.

The Supreme Court took up the case in November, and the Trump administration filed a friend of the court brief with the court this week asking for the memorial to be protected, the Daily Caller reported.

Trump asks SCOTUS to protect memorial

The statue, known as “Peace Cross,” was built in 1925 to honor 49 local fallen soldiers by the American Legion and the mothers of sons who died in World War I. The 93-year old monument in Bladensburg, Maryland, is 40 feet tall, shaped like a Latin cross and sits on grounds kept by a state commission.

The case took off when the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit in Maryland court in 2014 seeking the statue’s removal, arguing that its religious imagery constitutes a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibiting the state preference of one religion over another. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit decided in October 2017 that the statue was an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity, arguing that the symbolic meaning of the cross cannot be separated from belief in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. The sole dissenting judge wrote that the Constitution does not require the government to “purge from the public sphere any reference to religion.”

Supporters of the statue, including the American Legion, argue that it sends a secular message of remembrance of the war dead by incorporating traditional religious imagery that was copied from European grave-markers at the time.

The Trump administration filed the amicus brief Wednesday, more than a month after the court agreed to take up the case on November 3, which argues that the cross is a “passive display” that does not compel religious practice and is therefore not in violation of the Establishment Clause. To the contrary, the brief argues, a lack of clarity in the court’s use of religious tests for public religious symbols is encouraging divisive attacks on public religious symbols that are rooted in tradition and are non-compulsory.

According to the Daily Caller, the administration asked the court to clear up which of two religious tests it will use to weigh the legality of religious symbols on public land, adding that adopting a clear standard would reduce litigation and conflict between believers and non-believers of all faiths and lack thereof.

“This case presents an opportunity for the Court to adopt a standard for establishment clause challenges to passive displays that will reduce factious litigation, provide clarity to lower courts, and promote consistency across cases.”

Cites Founding Fathers

The effort to have the memorial removed is another example of the left-wing secular lawfare against public expressions of faith that has gone on for decades. Various left-wing groups have sought to remove any religious imagery from the public square through the courts on the basis of separation of church and state.

But conservatives have long argued that the Establishment Clause was never meant to prohibit all religious imagery from public grounds and that the Founding Fathers’ intention was not for religion to be squeezed out of the public sphere. The Trump administration cited the Founders in its argument to protect the cross, pointing to a 2014 Supreme Court decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which court ruled in favor of a town board that opened monthly public meetings with a prayer.

The court then stipulated that the prayer was constitutional because it was deeply rooted in American tradition and not coercive towards the public. In seeking to protect the statue, the administration argued similarly that war crosses are embedded in the tradition of World War I statuary and that the monuments do not compel religious belief.

30 states and a bi-partisan group of Maryland state senators also filed amicus briefs this week asking the Supreme Court to protect the memorial. The case could impact similar monuments in memorial sites across the country, including the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

“We owe a great deal of gratitude to the brave men and women who sacrificed everything for our country,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. “Honoring their sacrifice with memorials that include religious symbols does not violate the U.S. Constitution and is one of many freedoms these men and women fought to preserve.”

The case will test the court’s new five-conservative majority, which declined to take up a case on Planned Parenthood this month when Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided with his liberal colleagues. The court will hear oral arguments in February and render a decision in June.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.