AMERICAN LEGION AND THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE

First Things | 6/4/2018 | Mark Movsesian
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Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to consider an important Establishment Clause case from Maryland, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The case, which presents a challenge to a Maryland cemetery's use of a 40-foot cross as a public war memorial, gives the Court a chance to clarify its views on the constitutionality of state-sponsored religious displays. In particular, the case provides an opportunity for the Court to do away with the so-called “endorsement test,” which holds that a display violates the Constitution if a hypothetical, reasonable observer would see it as an endorsement of religion. Conservatives have criticized the endorsement test for decades, and with a new majority on the Court, they may finally have the votes to discard it. American Legion could turn out to be one of the most significant Establishment Clause cases in a long time.

The case involves the Peace Cross, a World War I memorial located in Veterans’ Memorial Park in Prince George’s County, outside Washington, D.C. Erected 90 years ago by the American Legion, the memorial consists of a large Celtic cross of white stone, with the Legion’s logo at the center of both faces. The base has a plaque bearing the names of 49 county residents who died in World War I, along with inscriptions extolling the martial virtues of “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion,” as well as a quote from Woodrow Wilson. An American flag flies nearby.

Cross - Number - Memorials - Park - Intersection

The cross is among a number of memorials in the park, though it sits more or less by itself at a busy intersection, 200 feet from the nearest monument. Over the years, the cross has been the site of numerous Memorial and Veterans Day commemorations, with customary invocations and benedictions. In 1931, apparently two or three Christian worship services took place at the cross, though...
(Excerpt) Read more at: First Things
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