NEW YORK, Feb. 12, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- AJC has joined with Christian and Jewish advocacy organizations in filing an amicus brief calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule unconstitutional a large Latin cross on government property in a Washington, D.C. suburb.
The 40-foot-tall concrete cross, standing on a traffic island at a busy intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland, was erected in 1925 to commemorate 49 local servicemen who died in World War I. The Maryland government owns the land on which the cross sits and maintains the memorial.
"Though this Latin cross has been standing for more than 90 years, a reexamination of the government's role in sustaining this Christian monument is essential," said AJC General Counsel Marc Stern. "The government clearly has failed the test of neutrality on matters of faith, of not favoring one religion over another."
A legal challenge first initiated seven years ago by the American Humanist Association led to a 2017 ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the presence of the Latin cross on public land violates the constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in November to hear the case, The American Legion vs. the American Humanist Association, with oral arguments are slated to begin on February 27.
"The Court should not adopt any of petitioners' secular rationalization of the cross," argue AJC and the other organizations in their amicus brief. "Any of these rationales would give governments carte blanche to erect new crosses."
The American Legion, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and other petitioners have argued that the cross is a secular, not religious, monument honoring war dead.
The brief charges that the Commission "violates its obligation to be neutral among faiths both when it sponsors the cross and when it spins stories attempting to secularize the cross." It notes, however, that forbidding the government to erect crosses as memorials would not affect the right of families of veterans to use religious symbols as grave markers.
The amicus brief was prepared by Professor Douglas Laycock, a church-state scholar affiliated with the University of Virginia and University of Texas. It was filed together with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
SOURCE American Jewish Committee