On June 20, the Supreme Court ruled that a 40-foot cross, erected in 1925 to commemorate those Americans who died fighting in World War I, could be allowed to remain on state property in Bladensburg, Maryland. The case originated with the American Humanist Society, which claimed that the cross’s presence on public land violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause. While some Jewish groups, most notably the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), objected to the decision, Jonathan Tobin argues that Jews should view it favorably:
What remains troubling about this case is not so much the arguments put forward by the plaintiffs, [but] that the effort to take down the war memorial seemed animated by hostility to the intersection of faith and the state that goes far beyond the mandate of the Constitution’s establishment clause. In the early years of the American republic, many states maintained restrictions on the rights of non-Christians, which were incompatible with the Constitution’s promise of freedom. To the extent that the majority needed to be restrained from establishing their faith at the expense of minorities, it was appropriate to build a wall of separation between church and state.
It ill behooves those who lament the fraying of the fabric of our common political culture and a spirit of growing intolerance to support a campaign to eradicate inoffensive memorials; doing so will only reinforce the belief that religion is under siege in the United States. The mere presence of a cross intended to memorialize the fallen involves, as Justice Clarence Thomas rightly noted, “no legal coercion” that should worry Jews or any other non-Christian group.
To the extent that some Jews think eradicating evidence of the faith of others can only protect their safety or even their sensibilities, they are doing neither religious freedom nor the country any good. To the contrary, by demonstrating hostility to, and intolerance for, the faith or the symbols venerated by other Americans, the ADL and other supporters of [the American Humanist Society’s] position are setting us up for unnecessary conflicts that are bad for America, as well as for Jews.