Bladensburg Cross Decision Reveals SCOTUS Contempt for Establishment Clause


For Immediate Release: June 20, 2019
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

Today’s ruling on the constitutionality of the Bladensburg cross makes plain the Supreme Court’s allegiance to the religious right and its contempt for the separation of church from state, said the Center for Inquiry.

The Bladensburg Peace Cross is a 40-foot concrete Latin Cross located on state land in Maryland and maintained at taxpayer expense.

“Rather than uphold the Establishment Clause, the bedrock principle of liberal democracy that bars the state from endorsing religion, this Supreme Court is clearly determined to see it ripped from the Constitution and thrown in the trash,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “The very suggestion that a gigantic cross, maintained by taxpayers, and looming ominously over the landscape does not imply an endorsement of Christianity is utter madness. That this Orwellian redefinition of facts and language has been sanctified by the highest court in the land is simply frightening.”

The Bladensburg Cross was dedicated in 1925, and initially stood on private land. However, in 1961 the land was turned over to the state, and the cross has been maintained at tax payer expense since then. It stands on a traffic circle in the middle of a busy public road, illuminated at night.

“No symbol represents Christianity more fully and obviously than the Latin cross,” continued Little. “To those driving in Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, this cross stands stark and alone as a public declaration of the Christian nature of government. It dismisses the equal citizenship not only of those Marylanders who hold a different faith or none at all, but also callously ignores the sacrifice of countless military personnel who were atheist or non-Christian. The wall of separation now has a 40-foot cross-shaped hole in it.”

The Center for Inquiry said that this decision from the Supreme Court represents a further step towards prioritizing Christianity and religious faith in general over the rights and interests of the non-religious and non-Christians. CFI, in conjunction with other church-state separation groups, submitted an amicus brief in this case, which can be read here.

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg correctly addressed the sectarian nature of this ruling and its disrespect for both non-believers and followers of non- Christian religions, writing, “Today the Court erodes that neutrality commitment, diminishing precedent designed to preserve individual liberty and civic harmony in favor of a ‘presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices.’” The display of the Latin cross, “the ‘defining symbol’ of Christianity,” conveys “a message of exclusion” to non-believers. Justice Ginsburg is correct in observing that the “principal symbol of Christianity around the world should not loom over public thoroughfares, suggesting official recognition of that religion’s paramountcy.”

“Just as the nonreligious have become the largest ‘faith’ category in the country, the U.S. Supreme Court is aggressively moving away from a stance that has served this nation and its pluralism well: requiring government to avoid the appearance of promoting religion,” said Robyn Blumner, CFI’s President and CEO. “The Court has now given government at all levels across the country the green light to proclaim a preference for religion—Christianity in particular. Taking the money of nonreligious taxpayers to maintain a giant cross violates the principles of church-state separation–principles the Roberts Court appears intent on abandoning.”

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.