On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a gigantic Latin cross on government land in Maryland does not have to be moved or altered in the name of church-state separation. The justices reasoned that the 40-foot cross was erected nearly a century ago as a World War I memorial, not an endorsement of Christianity. While their verdict could extend to other existing monuments, it does not offer a blank check to new ones.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito concluded that the display does not violate the Constitution’s establishment clause because of its longevity and multiple messages. The vote was 7-2, with Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
“The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent,” Alito said. For many people, he said, “destroying or defacing the cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.”