Several judges pointed out that the cross in question had existed for nearly a hundred years in a suburb of Maryland, in a park close to other war memorials.
Judge Elena Kagan noted that after the First World War, crosses "had become, in the minds of people, the preeminent symbol of how to commemorate the dead of the First World War." She suggested that in such a case, the particular religious content of a cross could be "stripped of" meaning. Judge Brett Kavanaugh said the court had confirmed other religious events in public. Judge Samuel Alito pointed out that the 49 soldiers honored on a plaque at the bottom of the memorial were likely Christians and would not have opposed the use of the cross by the government. Alito said the case would be different if some of the fallen soldiers had a different faith.
At one point, Alito told a lawyer, challenging the constitutionality of the cross, that there were similar monuments throughout the country. "Do you want them all to be slaughtered?" He asked.
But as for the test that could be used for these monuments and the others, the judges did not seem to agree on a particular reason.
Judge Stephen Breyer suggested that the court could draw a line, saying that "the past is beyond" allowing the cross in question and others with a similar historical background, but stating that "more" of Similar monuments could not be built in the future.
"We are a different country now," he said. "We are a different country now and there are 50 different religions," he said.
Judge Neil Gorsuch referred to some of the Court's precedents regarding the government's prohibition of the Constitution to favor one religion over the other "a dog's breakfast" and urged colleagues to give clearer direction. "Is it really fair on the part of the lower courts to struggle to apply the precepts of this Court?" He asked.
In court, Neal K. Katyal, representing the Maryland-National Capital Park and the Commission for Cross Planning, told the judges that it should not be "dismembered or destroyed."
The American Legion built the "Cross of Peace" in 1925 to honor 49 men who died in the service of the First World War. The mothers of the deceased soldiers designed the memorial to reflect the crosses that mark the burials of American cemeteries abroad.
"This commemorative cross is dedicated to the heroes of Prince George County who gave their lives in the great war for the freedom of the world," says a plaque.
The cross was ceded to the Maryland-National Capital Park and the Planning Commission in 1961, after a road was built around it. This was not a conflict until 2012, when local residents filed a lawsuit, arguing that they were offended by the government's downfall and by the fact that the cross was maintained with taxpayer money.
The fate of the cross illuminated at night and hosting the annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day celebrations has divided the community.
Last week, when two of the plaintiffs came to the cross for an interview, explaining their position, cars whistled and a driver poked his head out the window, shouting "Save the cross!" as he careened at the intersection.
Fred Edwords and Steven Lowe, with the support of the American Humanist Association, are behind this challenge.
"As a memorial to all veterans, it only seems to represent – Christian veterans," Lowe told CNN in an interview.
"I am not offended by the cross as such, what shocks me is that it is on a governmental land that the government encourages religion, and it is not my religion, "said Edwords.
"But even if it was my religion, I would not want my taxes to be used to support it," he said.
They lost when a district court upheld the cross. But in 2017, a panel of 4th US Court of Appeals judges decided 2-1 to overturn the ruling, saying the government had "been too involved in religion".
In court, Monica L. Miller, a lawyer for the American Humanist Society representing men, argued that the memorial should be either transferred to private property or altered.
But Stan Shaw and Mike Moore, both of the American Legion Post 131, say removing the arms from the cross would be disfiguring.
"Degrading him by taking his arms off or anything like that – it's just a slap for the veterans," Shaw said.
"I do not see how a static cross can force anyone to become a state religion," Moore said.
"Where is this ending?" He asked. He said he feared that if they lose in court, people are trying "to remove any reference to God, every cross on every memorial in the country."
Indeed, 84 lawmakers in the House and Senate filed a brief in support of the American Legion, claiming that if the court ruled against them in this case, it could affect other crosses. , for example two who are at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. One is the 13 foot high Latin cross called Argonne Cross, dedicated in 1923 to "the memory of our men in France", and the other is the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, which It is 24 feet tall and was donated by the Canadian government. to honor the Americans who died in the war.
The Trump administration supports the American Legion and urges judges to take a historical approach to the case. "History shows that the editors understood that the settlement clause prohibited the constraint on religious belief or adherence, but not the recognition of religion in public life," the statement said. Deputy Chief Solicitor General, Jeffrey B. Wall.
He added that "passive posters", such as the Peace Cross, fall on the "authorized side" of the line, because "they do not usually constrain religious belief, nor do they constrain, support or participate in a particular religion. or exercise it, or do not represent an effort to proselytize or denigrate a particular faith. "
On the other side is a friend of the court file filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and other groups defending the rights of atheists, agnostics and non-believers.
They argue that when the government chooses the symbol of a single religion to remember the heroes of war, it "stigmatizes, marginalizes and diminishes citizens who exercise their constitutional right not to believe or practice religion or any other religion. other religion ".
The Supreme Court heard a similar case in 2005 concerning the Ten Commandments. The court authorized the construction of a monument to the Ten Commandments in a Texas public park, but it canceled a similar exhibit in two Kentucky County courthouses.
Judges could issue a broad decision covering all religious symbols or limit their opinion to the specificities of the Peace Cross.
Two constitutional lawyers, Walter Dellinger and Martin S. Lederman, have suggested in another friend's memoir that there are "distinct contexts" when the display of religious symbols by the government does not violate the clause of the law. 39; establishment. This includes a symbol on a gravestone that corresponds to the religion of the deceased or the cross of peace.
The lawyers argue that the "special feature" of the cross is that the 49 commemorated men were probably all Christians. This would mean that the cross can be considered "not as a religious expression of the state itself", but rather "as a respectful representation of a fact relating to the religion of those who are honored – what the establishment clause does not generally forbid. "
A decision is expected by the end of June.