BLADENSBURG, MD —This week, the US Supreme Court hears arguments in a crucial religious liberty case. It deals with the Peace Cross, a World War I veterans memorial designed a century ago by the mothers of 49 Bladensburg area soldiers who died in the war.
Critics call it unconstitutional because of its shape. Defenders point out crosses marked most graves of those killed in the conflict known as the 'War to End All Wars.'
Could Affect Thousands of Crosses
The legal team defending the Peace Cross believes this could be the most crucial religious liberty case the Supreme Court handles this term.
That's because if the high court eventually decides this cross has to go, it could affect thousands of others.
But if the justices make a broad ruling favoring the cross and other objects like it, it could put an end to judges and bureaucrats deciding – somewhat haphazardly – if a religious symbol or display is too religious or secular enough to be left alone by secular authorities.
First Liberty Institute is defending the cross. One of its lawyers, Jeremy Dys, told CBN News, "This case is very important for a variety of reasons. Because this area of the law is right now – as Justice (Clarence) Thomas has said – in hopeless disarray. And so there's really needing some clarity for this."
If It Doesn't Force You to Accept Religion, It's Not Too Religious
Dys and his colleagues hope the high court agrees that if a symbol or display doesn't force people to accept religion, it's isn't too religious.
"A passive monument isn't forcing you to do anything," Dys argued. "This monument, in particular, is just there to remember 49 men who died defending our freedom."
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took to Facebook to defend the memorial, presenting on his Facebook page comments he made at a ceremony in the shadow of the Peace Cross.
At that event, Hogan said, "This monument was never meant to be a religious object. It was meant to honor our veterans, which we're going to fight to protect."
But a team of atheists, humanists and secularists object to the Peace Cross because it is on government land and maintained by the state.
The cross is the most prominent feature on a traffic circle surrounded by busy, often crowded roads.
'You See Nothing but This Huge Christian Cross'
One of the people who brought the original case against the cross – Steven Lowe of the American Humanist Association – told CBN News, "The government on this piece of property is favoring a religion with this huge symbol. When you come across the bridge or approach it from any of the highways, you see nothing but this huge Christian cross."
Renee Green spoke with Lowe and other cross opponents for her documentary "Save the Peace Cross."
In it, United Coalition of Reason officer Fred Edwords stated, "It gives the impression of Christianity and nothing else. And it gives the impression of government endorsement of Christianity."
And Lowe told Green, "The existence of a memorial on public land is not a problem. It is just the use of the Christian cross as part of that memorial that we find contrary to the First Amendment and separation of church and state."
Edwords added, "It looks for all the world like, 'Okay, this is either the state of Maryland or the city of Bladensburg endorsing one religion.'"
Traumatized Having to Drive by It
In the suit against the cross, one atheist said he was traumatized driving by it. Green appears on camera in her documentary to point out that many telephone poles are in the shape of a cross.
"If the plaintiffs win this lawsuit, will all the telephone poles need to be modified?" Green asks, tongue-in-cheek. She adds, "I just hope they're not traumatized by telephone poles while driving."
Green fought to get the Peace Cross placed in the National Register of Historic Places. She believes that alone should protect it from being torn down.
The documentarian and Peace Cross defender encourages people to find out more by visiting SaveThePeaceCross.com or the group's Facebook page.
'Last Best Hope for This Memorial'
It's hard to guess how the justices will rule in this particular case. Displays of symbols like the Ten Commandments and Nativity have both won and lost in various courts. Now one of the world's most beloved symbols, the cross, is on the line.
"The Supreme Court of the United States is the last best hope for this memorial," Dys warned.