Written by Don Byrd

By an 8-6 vote, the entire Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to revisit a constitutional challenge to a large memorial cross in Bladensburg, Maryland. That leaves in place a panel’s earlier ruling that the memorial is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

In that ruling, the court issued a strong rejection to the argument that a cross is a generic, rather than purely religious symbol. “One simply cannot ignore the fact that for thousands of years the Latin cross has represented Christianity,” they wrote. In agreeing with the decision not to rehear the case, one appeals court judge emphasized the importance of that recognition.

Nothing in the First Amendment empowers the judiciary to conclude that the freestanding Latin cross has been divested of this predominantly sectarian meaning…

To allow this Court to circumscribe the Bladensburg Cross’s meaning and power, as the Commission and its amici request, would empower this Court to diminish the Latin cross’s many years of accrued religious symbolism… Indeed, were this Court to accept that the Latin cross’s predominantly sectarian meaning could be overcome by a plaque, a small secular symbol, and four engraved words, as the Commission maintains, we would necessarily grant the government—and the judiciary, in particular—broad latitude to define and shape religious belief and meaning. Surely, the Constitution does not contemplate endowing the government with such extraordinary power to determine and prescribe individual citizens’ religious beliefs and religious communities’ joint understandings, appreciations, and teachings.

You can read the concurring and dissenting opinions here.

The Washington Post reports that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is expected.