Supreme Court: Cross on Federal Land Can Stay

A complex ruling allows some room for religious symbols on public ground

This article is from the archive of our partner .
The Supreme Court's decision Wednesday on a matter of religious expression, as one journalist put it, "was all over the map." The complicated and controversial case required the court to determine whether a cross erected on federal land as a war memorial violated the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment, which codifies the separation of church and state. Furthermore, the justices had to decide if the cross was still unconstitutional, even if the specific parcel of land on which the cross stood was transferred to private ownership.

Ultimately, the court handed down a 5-4 decision overturning a previous federal judge's objection to the cross and his order that the ground not be transferred to private ownership. But the court also decided 7-2 that the person who complained about the cross had a legal right to do so, and split 4-4 over sending the case back to the earlier federal judge for further examination (which will now happen). To make things more complicated, the justices had different reasons for their decisions, and wound up writing six separate opinions, "not one," veteran legal journalist Lyle Denniston notes, "representing a majority."
  • Cross Probably Going to Stay, predicts Lyle Denniston. "The Court obviously labored over the ruling," given the amount of time it took them to come to a decision. He also points out that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and John Paul Stevens "remain quite firmly opposed to such [religious] displays."
  • They're Confused, and Not  Politics Daily's Andrew Cohen was the one who called the decision "all over the map," and he points out that the case is far from over: there's more review to come. Nevertheless, he thinks the overall message is pretty clear:
The language of the ruling, as you can see, is quite subtle. The message is not. Five justices of the Supreme Court want that cross on Sunrise Rock. Congress wants that cross on Sunrise Rock. Sooner rather than later, or barring some dramatic shift in Court personnel or ideology, it's clear that cross is going to be allowed on stay on Sunrise Rock. Just don't expect any definitive announcement to that effect any time soon.
  • Stevens Retiring Not a Moment Too Soon  Hot Air's Allahpundit questions Justice Stevens's opinion, which includes the argument that it's not just the fact that the cross is on federal grounds that violates the "Establishment Clause," but the fact that the government has "designated the cross as a national memorial." Allahpundit wonders how Stevens would deal with Arlington Cemetery.
  • A Cross 'Evokes Far More Than Religion'  The Charleston Daily Mail's Don Surber zeroes in on a section of Justice Kennedy's opinion: "A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. Here, a Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten." Surber applauds the decision:
This ends a lengthy legal challenge by people who want to eradicate religion from our lives--intellectually dishonest people who want to use the government to foist their narrow view of the world on the rest of us.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.