Supreme Court to Rule on 40-Foot Cross in New Church-State Test

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider giving government officials more leeway to maintain religious symbols on public property, accepting a case over a 40-foot cross in the middle of a busy intersection outside Washington.

The justices will review a federal appeals court’s conclusion that the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland, violates the Constitution by endorsing a particular religion. The monument was erected almost a century ago as a memorial to 49 local men who died in World War I.

The case will present an important early test for the newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh. The court will hear arguments next year, probably in late February, and rule by June.

The divided appeals court called the cross a "core symbol of Christianity." If upheld, the ruling ultimately could require the memorial to be removed.

An area park commission and the American Legion, which owned the memorial for several decades, are appealing.

"Religious symbols, including crosses, are a well-recognized, historically grounded method for solemnizing and commemorating those who have died, particularly in wartime," the Legion argued in its appeal.

The Legion helped construct the monument, which was completed in 1925. As traffic increased on the surrounding highway, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission took over ownership in 1961.

The American Humanist Association sued in 2012. In court papers, the group said the memorial "commemorates Christians to the exclusion of all others."

The cases are American Legion v. American Humanist Association, 17-1717, and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association, 18-18.

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