Source: The New York Times
By The Editorial Board. The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
The case of a 40-foot cross in Maryland offers the justices a chance to clarify the constitutionality of religious displays.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court once again took on a question that has long confounded it: What qualifies as an impermissible establishment of religion under the Constitution?
The court has over the years sent mixed signals about when the government may be playing favorites with a particular faith. For instance, in its ruling last year upholding President Trump’s executive order imposing an entry ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries, the Supreme Court insisted, in a 5-to-4 vote, that the restrictions were “facially neutral toward religion,” ignoring the president’s long history of antipathy toward Islam and its adherents. And weeks earlier, the justices ruled, in a narrow decision, for a Christian baker who had claimed mistreatment by Colorado’s civil rights commission, which penalized him for denying service to a gay couple.
This week’s hearing, in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, involved a 40-foot cross in Bladensburg, Md., that was erected 93 years ago to honor fallen World War I soldiers. The question before the court: Is Maryland in violation of the First Amendment because the memorial is on public property and maintained with public funds?
Over the years, the justices have tried to come up with rules to assess all kinds of religious emblems and practices carrying the government’s imprimatur — sectarian prayers in legislative sessions, war memorials, Ten Commandments and Christmas displays, and mottos on seals or currency.