The Bladensburg Cross, Supreme Court Precedent, and the Dirty Dozen

On June 20th the Supreme Court handed down their decision in regard to the 32 foot tall Blandensberg cross, which is located in Maryland.  The Supreme Court ruled correctly that the cross does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  The rational behind that decision was however deeply flawed, leaving the door wide open for the future banning of other similar monuments.  Here is a link to the full Supreme Court Decision.

Here is the history behind the cross.     

In 1918, residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, formed a committee for the purpose of erecting a memorial for the county’s soldiers who fell in World War I. The committee decided that the memorial should be a cross, which was not surprising since the plain Latin cross had become a central symbol of the war. The image of row after row of plain white crosses marking the overseas graves of soldiers was emblazoned on the minds of Americans at home. The memorial would stand at the terminus of another World War I memorial—the National Defense Highway connecting Washington to Annapolis. When the committee ran out of funds, the local American Legion took over the project, completing the memorial in 1925. The 32-foot tall Latin cross displays the American Legion’s emblem at its center and sits on a large pedestal bearing, interalia, a bronze plaque that lists the names of the 49 county soldiers who had fallen in the war. At the dedication ceremony, a Catholic priest offered an invocation and a Baptist pastor offered a benediction. The Bladensburg Cross (Cross) has since been the site of patriotic events honoring veterans on, e.g.,Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day. Monuments honoring the veterans of other conflicts have been added in a park near the Cross.

The background to the case is as follows:

In 2014, the American Humanist Association (AHA) and others filed suit in District Court, alleging that the Cross’s presence on public land and the Commission’s maintenance of the memorial violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The American Legion intervened to defend the Cross. The District Court granted summary judgment for the Commission and the American Legion, concluding that the Cross satisfies both the test announced in Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U. S. 602, and the analysis applied by JUSTICE BREYER in upholding a Ten Commandments monument in Van Orden v. Perry

Here are the most relevant quotes from the ruling

JUSTICE ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Pa rt s I, II–B, II–C, III, and IV , concluding that the Bladensburg Cross does not violate the Establishment Clause. Pp. 16–24, 28–31. (a) At least four considerations show that retaining established, religiously expressive monuments, symbols, and practices is quite different from erecting or adopting new ones.

First, these cases often concern monuments, symbols, or practices that were first established long ago, and thus, identifying their original purpose or purposes may be especially difficult. See Salazar v. Buono, 559 U. S. 700.

Second, as time goes by, the purposes associated with an established monument, symbol, or practice often multiply, as in the Ten Commandments monuments addressed in Van Orden and McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., 545 U. S. 844. Even if the monument’s original purpose was infused with religion, the passage of time may obscure that sentiment and the monument may be retained for the sake of its historical significance or its place in a common cultural heritage.

Third, the message of a monument, symbol, or practice may evolve,Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 555 U. S. 460, 477, as is the case with a city name like Bethlehem, Penn-sylvania; Arizona’s motto“Ditat Deus” (“God enriches”), adopted in 1864; or Maryland’s flag, which has included two crosses since 1904. Familiarity itself can become a reason for preservation.

Fourth, when time’s passage imbues a religiously expressive monument, symbol, or practice with this kind of familiarity and historical significance, removing it may no longer appear neutral, especially to the lo-cal community. The passage of time thus gives rise to a strong presumption of constitutionality. Pp. 16–21

As you can see from the quotes, Justice Alito relies almost entirely on Supreme Court Precedent rather than the actual text and plain meaning the the Constitution.  This is a great disappointment to me.  Precedent was never meant to replace the actual text of the Constitution yet it has.  There is one small ray of hope,  Justice Alito did attempt to overturn the deeply flawed Lemon test

The plurality rightly rejects the relevance of the test set forth in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U. S. 602, 612–613, to claims like this one, which involve religiously expressive monuments, symbols, displays, and similar practices, but JUSTICE THOMAS would take the logical next step and overrule the Lemon test in all contexts. The test has no basis in the original meaning of the Constitution; it has “been manipulated to fit whatever result the Court aimed to achieve,”

Supreme Court Precedent is nothing more than the comprehensive text of all Supreme Court decisions since the very first.  Such a high percentage of them are deeply flawed, relying on political and personal beliefs, rather than the actual text and plain meaning of the Constitution.  These decisions are so atrocious many books have been written about them.  One book I highly recommend is the Dirty Dozen. (If you were expecting me to tie in the movie with the same title, sorry I faked you out to keep you reading.)

If the Supreme Court Justices had actually followed the the Constitution they would have ruled that the Bladensburg Cross, or any similar monument, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because that clause only prohibits the Federal Government from establishing a national religion.  They would have also ruled that this issue must be left up to State of Maryland because the Bill of Rights specifically prevents the federal government from playing any role regarding all of our most fundamental tights. 

If the Maryland State Courts followed their own Constitution they would have ruled in favor of the cross.  Here is what the Maryland Bill of Rights has to say about religion.

Art. 36. That as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore, no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate, on account of his religious persuasion, or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent, or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain, any place of worship, or any ministry

Religious liberty is protected and only the direct funding of churches is banned, not monuments in the shape of a cross.