Steven C. Lowe says he has always thought that a 40-foot-tall (12-meter-tall) concrete cross that stands on a large, grassy highway median near his home was odd.
For years, he says, he didn’t know that the cross in Bladensburg, Maryland, is a war memorial. A plaque on the cross’ base lists the names of 49 area residents who died in World War I, but it isn’t easily read from the road and getting to the monument requires dashing across traffic. Lowe said he felt the cross implied that the city where it stands favored Christians over others.
In 2014, Lowe, two other area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, a group that includes atheists and agnostics, sued to challenge the cross. They argue that the cross’ location on public land violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others.
The group lost the first round in court, but in 2017 an appeals court ruled the cross unconstitutional. Now, the cross’ supporters are asking the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling in a case the justices will hear Wednesday.
The memorial’s supporters would seem to have a good shot based on the court’s decision to take the case and the court’s more conservative makeup, seen as more likely to uphold such displays.
With the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments for this case tomorrow, we preview the legal debate.
With files from the Associated Press.