A Win in the Shadow of a Cross

Religion and Morality: The Indispensable Supports of Political Prosperity


The United States Supreme Court in a 7-2 ruling in American Legion v. American Humanist Association decided that a Bladensburg, Maryland memorial cross dedicated to 48 heroes from Prince George County who died in World War 1 does not violate the Establishment Clause. The First Amendment to the Constitution reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” The argument raised against the Great War memorial was it violated the Establishment Clause, because of the Christian symbolism of the cross and it was on public property. Opponents argued this was equivalent to the government declaring or endorsing an official language.


The memorial itself was initiated by a mother of one of the soldiers who died in the Great War. The design of the cross was chosen to reflect a similar gravestone or marker for those who died and were buried on the bloody battlefields of Europe. Several years later, the memorial and the accompanying land, was acquired by the government. This case is unfortunate because it demonstrates how far radical secularism has advanced in our society.


Although the Justices of the Supreme Court who voted in the majority decided Maryland was not violating the Establishment Clause, their reasonings were divided. William C. Duncan, Director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society, explained:

“For instance, four justices (Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh) questioned whether a previous rule adopted by the court in 1971 (the Lemon test) was really workable. Justice Clarence Thomas made a broader claim that the Lemon test should be abandoned and replaced with the test of whether a person is religiously coerced by a government action. Kavanaugh also suggested coercion was the relevant question. Thomas also argued that the Establishment Clause does not apply to state and local governments. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Thomas argued that being offended by seeing a religious display did not constitute an injury that violated the Constitution.”


The Court’s decision was a victory for the original intent of the Establishment Clause, but it does not mean the end of future cases involving religion in the public square. The late Justice Scalia provides a reminder that we have a longstanding tradition of religion in the public square.


As Antonin Scalia stated:

“Our country has a long tradition of official encouragement of religion on a non-sectarian basis. That tradition reflects the understanding of the nation’s founders that, as George Washington declared in his Farewell Address, religion and morality are “indispensable supports” of “political prosperity” and that we should “with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”