Cross is Safe, Religious Liberties Still Under Assault, Justice Warns

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American Legion members and veterans across America can breathe a sigh of relief that their memorials are safe after a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision to rebuke the 8-6 Fourth Circuit Court idea that the Bladensburg Cross should be defaced or removed because of Separation of Church and State concerns. (American Legion photo)

A patient is saved, but an epidemic shows little sign of a cure, speaking of the constant movement by leftist activists to erase America’s Christian heritage.

On a 7-2 margin, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a resounding rebuke of the case to deface or remove the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland. The first reaction was a huge sigh of relief.

However some looked to the future, whether the resounding rebuke would end the epidemic of pressures applied and implied against free religious expression of Christian Biblical identity in the public square.

From the American Legion that ceremonially honors the 49 servicemen memorialized by the Cross came the thumbs-up. “Mission accomplished!” exclaimed National Commander Brett Reistad.

“The American Legion is proud to have defended the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial,” he added. “Since our founding, the Legion has been committed to defending the memorials of our fallen comrades because we know the price of freedom.”

The Legion’s attorneys said that the decision forms a landmark signaling a new direction for American jurisprudence regarding religious liberties.

This decision leaves in place the tangled confusion of past Establishment Clause opinions

Travis Weber, Family Research Council

“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom,” Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty, said. “The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over.

“Every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith,” he added.

One main aspect of the debate over a Fourth-Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruling to require the cross’s defacement or removal was how a so-called “Lemon test” applies.

A First Liberty statement on Lemon explains:

“Named for the 1971 case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, the “Lemon test” asks a number of subjective questions that activists have routinely used to decry ‘separation of church and state’ while demanding anything religious be hidden from public view.”

Shackelford declared the Lemon test to be dead, adding, “In its place, the Court returned to a commonsense reading of the Establishment Clause that guards against the establishment of an official religion while permitting the public acknowledgment of religion.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to rebuke a specious decision by the Fourth Circuit, but it did not render a cure against a nearly 50-year fallacy called the “Lemon test” that tosses proper application of the establishment of religion and the proper role of religious liberty into confusion. (Supreme Court photo)

But in a concurring opinion by conservative stalwart Justice Clarence Thomas came a clear indication that the Bladensburg decision did not go far enough.

Thomas pointed to a plurality that noted a distancing from the Lemon test, adding he would specifically abolish that standard as a ruling of the court.

“I would take the logical next step and overrule the Lemon test in all contexts,” Thomas stated.

“First, that test has no basis in the original meaning of the Constitution. Second, since its inception, it has been manipulated to fit whatever result the Court aimed to achieve.”

Travis Weber, Vice President for Policy and Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, called the decision a much-needed win for the Peace Cross and other memorials.

“However, this decision leaves in place the tangled confusion of past Establishment Clause opinions, which are currently being used to remove religious messages, signs, and symbols from public squares around our country,” Weber warned.

I cannot join the Court’s opinion because it does not adequately clarify the appropriate standard for Establishment Clause cases

Justice Clarence Thomas

“These issues will continue to arise, and we are thankful for those on the bench who point this out,” he added. “Further, this case reveals the incredible importance of judges and justices on the bench who view the Constitution as originalists.”

Weber’s brief filed for the case early on noted that there are dangers to continuous resistance against religious expression in the public square, specifically:

“The public recognition of religious identity is under assault, and attempts to squash the public expression of faith are well documented.”

Those dangers remain as the assault continues: the aim is to push into obscurity, into the hidden realms of our private lives, the free expression of a religious identity that approximates Biblical Christianity.

“This privatization is harmful, whether in forcing memorials like the Peace Cross to be demolished or in demanding that Americans scrub their faith out of their public lives,” the Weber brief stated.

“Indeed, if religious identity is fundamental and indispensable to being, then limiting public religious expression discourages participants in the public square from bringing their full selves to bear in service to their communities.”

Justice Thomas’ conclusion was perfectly blunt: “Regrettably, I cannot join the Court’s opinion because it does not adequately clarify the appropriate standard for Establishment Clause cases. Therefore, I concur only in the judgment.”

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