BY NINA TOTENBERG
A giant concrete cross standing in the middle of a busy median strip is the latest symbol of a constitutional fight that has raged for decades. It’s a fight over the concept of the separation of church and state and what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote into the First Amendment a ban on government “establishment” of religion.
Just how to treat such religious symbols and taxpayer funding for programs at religious institutions will play out Wednesday before a newly constituted conservative Supreme Court majority.
The case before the court involves a cross that was erected nearly 100 years ago when bereaved mothers in Bladensburg, Md., decided to build a World War I memorial to honor their fallen sons. When they ran out of money, the American Legion took over the project. But by the 1930s, a local parks commission had taken over the war memorial and the responsibility for its maintenance. Today, it sits at a busy five-way intersection, and the message it conveys all depends on whom you ask.