Bladensburg cross

U.S. Supreme Court launched a new church-and-state era last week. Follow-ups, please.

U.S. Supreme Court launched a new church-and-state era last week. Follow-ups, please.

“Of making many books there is no end,” complains the weary author of the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes. And there’s no end to lawyers making many lawsuits trying to learn what the U.S. Supreme Court thinks the Constitution means when it forbids “an establishment of religion” by government.

Journalists should provide follow-up analysis of a new era in “separation of church and state” launched June 20 with the Court’s decision to allow a century-old, 40-foot cross at a public war memorial in Maryland. Importantly, we can now assess new Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who filed separate opinions supporting the cross display.

Actually, the nine justices produced a patchwork of eight separate opinions, which demonstrates how unstable and confused church-state law is.

Ask your sources, but The Guy figures the Court lineup now has only two flat-out separationists, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 86) and Sonia Sotomayor. While Samuel Alito managed to assemble five votes for part of his opinion, his four fellow conservative justices are unable to unite on a legal theory. Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan seem caught halfway between the two sides.

Federal courts have long followed the “Lemon test,” from a 1971 Court ruling of that name that outlawed public aid for secular coursework at religious schools. Chief Justice Warren Burger’s opinion devised three requirements to avoid “establishment,” that a law have a “secular” purpose, “neither advances nor inhibits religion” and doesn’t foster “excessive government entanglement with religion.”

Kavanaugh declared that the Court has now effectively abandoned Lemon in favor of a “history and tradition test,” which permits some cherished religious symbols and speech in government venues despite the “genuine and important” concern raised by dissenters.

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Why is the Bladensburg Peace Cross case important? The New York Times spells it out

Why is the Bladensburg Peace Cross case important? The New York Times spells it out

When I lived in Maryland and commuted a few miles to my Washington Times job, I often drove by a huge World War I memorial known as the “Peace Cross.” Every so often I thought: I wonder if someone is going to file a lawsuit against the monument, claiming to be offended by it.

It’s true that the Supreme Court has said there’s no legal basis in removing a monument simply because one person is offended by it -- but these are strange times. Look at what the new iconoclasm is doing to some Civil War monuments and could do to others.

In fact, one legal group posted a blog item suggesting that if the Ten Commandments offend you, don’t visit Washington, DC. And yes, there is now an effort to remove the peace cross.

Here is the top of the New York Times report on this controversy. The key: Try to find information stating why someone -- right now -- is offended by this old monument.

BLADENSBURG, Md. -- Five miles from the United States Supreme Court, a 40-foot-tall World War I memorial in the shape of a cross has stood for nearly a century. Now, it is at the center of a battle over the separation of church and state that may end up on the court’s docket.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declared this month that the Peace Cross, which sits on state-owned land in Maryland and has been maintained with public funds, was unconstitutional, a ruling that supporters of the monument warned could result in a “cleansing” of memorials on public grounds across the country…
The Peace Cross, which commemorates 49 fallen soldiers from Prince George’s County, looms over the knotted intersection of Maryland Route 450 and United States Alternate Route 1 in this old port town of 10,000 people. ... The monument was erected in 1925 with funding from local families and the American Legion, but the state obtained title to the cross and land in 1961, and has spent at least $117,000 to maintain them.
In a 2-to-1 ruling, the three-judge panel declared that the Peace Cross violated the First Amendment by having “a primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government and religion.”

Reading that, I wondered if these circuit judges had ever driven past that cross every day to work. It’s in a roundabout more noted for honking horns than holiness.

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