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(RNS) — In last week’s decision in The American Legion vs. American Humanist Association, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a free-standing, 40-foot cross on government land in Bladensburg, Maryland, did not violate the First Amendment’s “no establishment” clause, reversing the lower court’s ruling below.
Seven justices agreed with that judgment, with only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. But the ruling was splintered and the decision more limited than the vote count suggests.
Argument - Monument - Majority - Opinion - Justice
In upholding the argument that the monument should remain, the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito focused on its specific history and its context as a World War I memorial. The opinion emphasized that this cross was originally dedicated to 49 individuals from the local community who were killed in the war.
According to the majority, the “plain Latin cross … took on a new meaning after World War I,” as a “‘central symbol’ of the conflict.” In several places throughout his opinion, Alito emphasized the monument’s old age, having been erected in 1925, and how those 94 years changed both its purpose and the message it conveyed.
Outcome - Case - Court - Impact - Monument
Perhaps most important to the outcome of this case, the court worried about the divisive impact to remove or alter the monument, “especially to the local community for which it has taken on particular meaning.”
In their decision, however, the court opted against some of the extreme arguments put forth by the government and its allies that would have had more far-reaching consequences. The court rejected an approach that would ignore concern for government neutrality between different faiths and require government coercion. Sticking to the facts of this particular memorial and divisive consequences of its potential removal, Alito wrote that the facts at hand were “quite different from erecting or adopting new” monuments.
Court - Arguments
The court also avoided sweeping arguments that the...
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