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Justices seem open to allowing 40-foot cross monument

February 27, 2019

The Supreme Court is sounding as though it will allow a 40-foot cross-shaped war memorial to remain on public land in Maryland, but shy away from a sweeping ruling.

Arguments are underway in a closely watched case about the place of religious symbols in public life. The nearly 100-year-old cross was built as a memorial to area residents who died in World War I.

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.

Maryland officials are also defending the cross. They oversee the cross’s location and argue that it doesn’t violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning.

The cross’s 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.

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