By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]

The United States Supreme Court ruled that the World War I Memorial Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md., can remain on public grounds in Prince George’s County. In a decisive 7-2 ruling, the Justices concluded that it was legal for the religious monument that honors veterans to remain in place in the Washington, D.C. suburb.

The Peace Cross was commissioned in 1919 by the American Legion of Hyattsville. It had recently come under scrutiny by anti-religious groups, such as the American Humanist Association and three residents who live near the memorial. The case began as a lawsuit by three people who live near the cross and the District of Columbia-based group that includes atheists and agnostics, all of whom felt the memorial should be relocated to private property or changed to a non religious symbol.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Bladensburg WWI Memorial, also known as the Peace Cross, will remain in place, after constitutional concerns surrounding the shape of the memorial and its religious undertones. (Courtesy Photo)

“We are pleased with today’s Supreme Court ruling that the Bladensburg World War I Memorial, also known as the Peace Cross, will be able to remain in place,” said Prince George’s County Executive Alsobrooks in a statement. “This monument is not only a memorial for the sacrifices made by our military members in World War I, but is also a symbol to honor our veterans and all those who have given their lives in service to our county, state, and nation. We are Prince George’s proud to have the largest population of military veterans in the state of Maryland, and we are proud that this monument will continue to be a symbol to honor the men and women who have served our Nation.”

This was a case being closely monitored because of how it could’ve legally impacted other monuments located on public property around the country. Defenders of the cross in Bladensburg, a suburb of the nation’s capital, had argued that a ruling against them could doom hundreds of war memorials that use religious symbols to commemorate soldiers who died. However, this Supreme Court decision helps preserve landmarks in public spaces and is looked upon as a victory for the area’s past and future of honoring fallen soldiers, allowing municipalities to continue using religious symbolism.

The memorial in Bladensburg has been a traditional gathering spot for residents and visitors during holiday celebrations such as Memorial Day, Independence Day (4th of July) and Veterans Day for 94 years. After its commissioning in 1919, it was erected in 1925, and earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 8, 2015.  However, there is a covering over the top of the concrete crucifix signalling it needs repairs which have been delayed because of this litigation.

“It’s important to residents of Prince George’s County because it honors heroes who served in World War I who are from our community,” Bladensburg Mayor Takisha James told the {Associated Press}. “So regardless of the shape of it, it was for their honor, and we don’t want to see it coming down.” 

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, who wrote in favor of the ruling, said they would have never heard the lawsuit before the court. Gorsuch, the newest Justice who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, cited how municipal buildings such as the Supreme Court are decorated with religious symbols.

In his position Gorsuch wrote, “in a large and diverse country, offense can be easily found” and the answer shouldn’t be a lawsuit.”  

The only two justices who sided with the plaintiffs in the suit were President Barack Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.