A World War I memorial in the shape of a Christian religious symbol can continue to stand on public land in Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The justices, in ruling 7-2, concluded that the nearly 100-year-old memorial’s presence on a grassy highway median doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from making any laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”
The case had been closely watched because it involves the place of religious symbols in public life. Defenders of the memorial in Bladensburg had argued that a ruling against them could doom hundreds of war memorials that use religious symbols to commemorate soldiers who died.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote that while the memorial uses what is “undoubtedly a Christian symbol” that fact “should not blind us to everything else” that the memorial “has come to represent.”
“For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home,” wrote Alito. “For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices to our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The memorial’s challengers included three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, which includes atheists and agnostics. They argued that the memorial should be moved to private property or modified into a nonreligious monument such as a slab or obelisk.
Defenders included the American Legion, which raised money to build the monument honoring area residents who died in World War I. Other backers included the Trump administration and Maryland officials who took over maintenance of the memorial nearly 60 years ago to preserve it and address traffic safety concerns.