By Linda Greenhouse
Contributing Opinion Writer
March 14, 2019, 165
Image: The cross that stands 40 feet tall on public land in Bladensburg, Md., is the subject of a Supreme Court case.
Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The cross that stands 40 feet tall on public land in Bladensburg, Md., is the subject of a Supreme Court case.CreditCreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Even before last month’s Supreme Court argument, the smart-money consensus was that those challenging the Latin cross that stands 40 feet tall on public land in Bladensburg, Md., would lose. Without debating that prediction, I want to make an obvious but, so far, underappreciated point: It really matters how the American Humanist Association and the other nonreligious plaintiffs lose.
If the justices permit the ultimate symbol of Christianity to remain, towering over other structures at the junction of two major roads, what theory will they use?
Will they say that even if such an object would be unconstitutional if erected today, this one should be grandfathered because it was put up by local citizens as a World War I memorial and stood without controversy for most of the ensuing 93 years?
Will the justices decide, as one lawyer, Neal Katyal, insisted in defense of the cross, that despite its origin as the centerpiece of Christian theology, a cross designated a war memorial acquires “an independent secular meaning?” (The Supreme Court’s leading precedent requires that in order not to violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, a government display of a religious symbol must have a “secular legislative purpose.”)”