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American Legion v. American Humanist Association

United States Supreme Court
139 S. Ct. 2067 (2019)


After World War I, the military used the cross symbolically in military honors. The army marked soldiers’ graves with plain white wooden crosses or Stars of David instead of traditional rectangular slabs. Americans inextricably linked images of row upon row of white crosses with the lives lost, making the plain white cross an iconic symbol. Ten fallen soldiers’ mothers and other residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, formed a committee in 1918 to erect a memorial and chose a cross. Called the Bladensburg Peace Cross, the memorial is a plain, 32-foot-tall Latin cross on public land at the end of another WWI memorial, the National Defense Highway. Later war memorials stand nearby. The cross bears the names of 49 local soldiers killed and the emblem of the American Legion (defendant) at its center. Eighty-nine years after its erection, the American Humanist Association (AHA) (plaintiff) sued, claiming that the presence of the cross on public lands and its maintenance with public funds violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The AHA wanted the cross relocated or demolished, or at least its arms removed. The trial court found the cross constitutional, but the Fourth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court granted review.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Alito, J.)

Concurrence (Gorsuch, J.)

Concurrence (Thomas, J.)

Concurrence (Kavanaugh, J.)

Concurrence (Breyer, J.)

Dissent (Ginsburg, J.)

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