A hotly contested case involving a large, nearly century-old memorial was decided recently by the United States Supreme Court.
Through a 7-2 decision issued last week, the majority said the location of the cross on public property does not violate the US Constitution. The facts of the case, and the Court’s rationale regarding those facts, are notable for churches and church leaders.
In late 1918, residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, formed a committee for the purpose of erecting a memorial for the county’s citizens killed in World War I. Among the committee’s members were the mothers of 10 deceased soldiers. The committee decided that the memorial should be a cross and hired a sculptor to design it.
After selecting the design, the committee turned to the task of financing the project. It held fundraising events in the community and invited donations, no matter the size. Many of those who responded were local residents who gave small amounts. Donations of 25 cents to $1 were the most common. The committee eventually ran out of funds, and progress on the cross stalled. The local post of the American Legion took over the project, and the monument was finished in 1925.
The completed monument, commonly called the “Bladensburg Cross” (in reference to the local municipality where it stands) or “Peace Cross,” is a 32-foot-tall Latin cross placed atop a large pedestal. The American Legion’s emblem is displayed at its center, and the words “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion” are inscribed at its base, one on each of the four faces.