American Humanist Association, et. al. v. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, et al., No. 15-2597 (4th Cir.) October 19, 2017

A three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that the presence of a cross on public land in Prince George’s County, Maryland memorializing war veterans violates the Establishment Clause.   The court opined that the visible public presence of a primary symbol of Christianity promoted religion and that the expenditure of public funds to maintain the memorial precipitated unlawful government entanglement in religious matters.

Blogger’s Note:  It would be surprising if further review in this matter is not sought.  Each side is armed with many amici supporters.  It is noteworthy that the defendants are supported by the attorneys general of many states.  The panel’s opinion is accompanied by a separate opinion presenting a partial concurrence and dissent.  The opinion does not consider recent U.S. Supreme Court considerations of public displays of religious symbols, although the separate partial concurrence and dissent does discuss Salazar v. Buono, 559 U.S. 700 (2010).  Moreover, the panel opinion chose to disregard the precedent concerning public displays of religious monuments established in Van Orden v. Perry,  545 U.S. 677 (2005)  in favor of applying the three prong test to be applied to Establishment Clause issues enunciated in Lemon v. Kurtzman,   403 U.S. 602 (1971).

Notwithstanding the panel’s protestation that the defendant’s fears for the many monuments presenting religious imagery throughout the country are unfounded owing to the individual nature of Establishment Clause challenges, it is difficult to conceive that secularists will not seize the ruling as an impetus for more of those individual challenges throughout the country.

Am. Humanist Ass’n v. Md.-Nat’l Capital Park & Planning Comm’n (4th Cir., 2017)

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