The U.S. Supreme Court granted a major religious liberty victory on Thursday, ruling 7-2 that a 40-foot structure known as the Peace Cross can remain on public land.
Attorneys representing the cross called the ruling a “landmark victory for religious freedom.” The reason? The decision could also impact a plethora of additional monuments that are under fire across the U.S. over their inclusion of religious symbols.
The Peace Cross, which has been standing for more than 90 years on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland, first came under fire a few years ago when atheists began complaining that they wanted the monument removed from public property.
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Though it was built with private funding in the 1920s to honor 49 soldiers who died while fighting in Europe, it has been maintained on public lands in recent decades, according to the LA Times.
The American Humanist Association, an atheist activist group, challenged the cross, arguing that it constituted a government endorsement of religion, leading to a legal battle that finally came to a close on Thursday, NBC News reported.
The atheist group previously won in a lower court ruling, but the Supreme Court overturned that victory on Thursday in stunning form.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the opinion that, though the cross is known as a Christian symbol, its use in the memorial is of “special significance.”
"For nearly a century, the Bladensburg Cross has expressed the community's grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifice, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought," he wrote. "Its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of a 'hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions.’"
First Liberty Institute, the law firm defending the American Legion and the cross, released a statement on Thursday declaring victory.
The release made a specific — and important — proclamation about the potentially sweeping nature of the Peace Cross win.
“Today, in a 7-2 decision, the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States preserved the nearly 100-year old Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, along with memorials like it bearing religious symbols across the country,” the statement read, acknowledging that the ruling could impact many other religious-themed monuments that have come under fire across America.
The statement went on to say that the “First Amendment allows people to use religious symbols and images in public,” and that this case backs that contention.
It’s been a big week at the Supreme Court for religious liberty, with the justices also vacating a ruling against a Christian bakery that declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple.
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