Why some religious groups want to see the Peace Cross removed

The fate of the Bladensburg Peace Cross will be decided in June by the U.S. Supreme Court, though it appeared a majority of justices seemed inclined to find a way to permit the cross to stay.

Both conservative and liberal justices noted that historically, crosses have been used as symbols that weren’t necessarily steeped in Christianity, but also as memorials honoring more secular events. That could be the loophole that allows groups, including the federal government and the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, to prevail over the American Humanist Association.

Yet even though it would seem like an unlikely alliance, there are some religious groups hoping the American Humanist Association, a nonprofit atheist organization, prevails in its arguments.

“This particular display of the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity is unconstitutional,” said Holly Hollman, who is the general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “The government’s claim is deeply offensive. Christians should reject that claim.”

It was noted in the arguments that some groups see the cross as so sacred, that denying its Christian identity is insulting and wrong. That’s the crux of the brief filed by the BJC, and an assertion Hollman said is reiterated by other Christian and Jewish groups, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian Church (USA).

“Our brief counters the argument of the government that the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity has been reduced or could be reduced to just a generic symbol of sacrifice and memorialization,” said Hollman.

“The cross matters to us as Christians. It has a powerful, specific meaning that is central to our faith. Non-Christians also recognize the specific meaning of the cross,” she added from outside the court after Wednesday’s arguments.

“When the government gets involved in religion, it necessarily waters it down or distorts its meaning as it does here where it takes … a 40-foot cross in the middle of a busy intersection on government land, and said that it is simply a universal symbol of valor or sacrifice. As if the government can make it a secular symbol when we all know that it is a Christian symbol that has Christian meaning.”

The American Humanist Association pushed the court to uphold a Federal Appeals Court ruling that ordered the cross removed, relocated, or remodeled. Specifically, the AHA suggested it be moved to private land.

WTOP’s John Domen reported from Washington, D.C.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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