Only days after the U.S. Supreme Court decided a war memorial cross in Maryland could stay, the justices have ordered a lower court to review another cross case in light of its latest ruling.
In the Maryland case, the justices voted 7-2 to allow the Bladensburg memorial cross, erected in honor of World War I soldiers, to remain near a Maryland highway junction.
Atheists had demanded that the structure, which has been on government land since the state acquired the site from private owners, be destroyed.
Now, the Supreme Court has issued an order in the case of a World War II-era cross memorial in Pensacola, Florida.
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled the Pensacola cross had to come down, but two of the judges explained they were bound by precedent and thought the cross should remain.
The non-profit legal group Becket noted the two judges said the outcome was “wrong” but that their “hands were tied” because of the Supreme Court’s three-pronged Lemon test.
The Supreme Court order on Friday told the 11th Circuit to review the case again in light of the Bladensburg ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s order is an encouraging sign that the Bayview cross can stay in Pensacola just like the Peace Cross can stay in Maryland,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “We fully expect the lower court to follow the Supreme Court’s lead.”
The Supreme Court, in a short announcement, said it granted review of the Pensacola cross case, vacated the original judgment ordering its removal and returned the case to the 11th Circuit “for consideration in light of the American Legion v. American Humanists (Bladensburg) case.”
The wooden Pensacola cross was installed in Pensacola’s Bayview Park in 1941 by the Jaycees, a local community service group, as the U.S. prepared to enter World War II. The cross has been a popular gathering place for more than 75 years. It’s one of more than 170 displays in Pensacola’s parks commemorating the city’s history and culture.
Three years ago an atheist organization sued the city, claiming that the cross is “offensive.”
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward earlier explained: “This cross is more than a religious symbol. It’s an important part of our city’s history and culture – just like many other monuments celebrated throughout Pensacola’s parks. To tear down this symbol just because a few are offended by it shows hostility to religion, not neutrality. The city looks forward to being vindicated on appeal—as the majority of the court said it should be.”
WND reported Becket argued the suit shouldn’t even have been filed.
“Ultimately, the court need not reach any of these issues, because plaintiffs lack standing to sue. Two plaintiffs submitted no evidence of standing and have since left the country. The third plaintiff does not live in Pensacola and has suffered no cognizable injury. The last plaintiff not only lacks any injury, but negated any claim of injury by reserving the cross and using it for his own ‘satanic purposes,'” the filing explained at the time.
Becket explained three of the plaintiffs have virtually no exposure to the cross, and the fourth “contacted the city and ‘tried to reserve the site of the cross for Easter Sunday.’ A church had already reserved the site for that day, but when [the plaintiff] ‘complained,’ ‘the church graciously agreed to move to another area in the park’ to permit [him] to use the cross. [The plaintiff] then proceeded to use the cross for his ‘satanic purposes.'”