Bladensburg Cross Supreme Court ruling eases uncertainty for Towson's Wayside Cross

A Supreme Court ruling Thursday on a publicly owned cross-shaped World War I memorial has implications for Towson’s own cross memorial, according to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks.

The ruling allowing the 40-foot Bladensburg Cross in Prince George’s County to remain on public land secures the future of Towson’s Wayside Cross, Marks said.

“Ruling against the Bladensburg monument would have forced the Wayside Cross off public property,” Marks said.

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court determined Thursday that the cross does not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause mandating the separation of church and state.

"The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the opinion, saying the passage of time and its status as a World War I memorial has given it a “secular meaning.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Marks said the county had been watching the case closely, given the Bladensburg monument’s similarities with Towson’s Wayside Cross.

The Towson monument was built by Baltimore County and dedicated in September 1921, according to the Maryland Historical Trust. On it are the names of more than 200 people who served in World War I.

The cross is the site of annual Memorial Day ceremonies and was rededicated in May after a renovation and beautification project.

It stands on public land adjacent to the Circle East project being redeveloped by Retail Properties of America Inc. (RPAI). Marks said had the Supreme Court ruled differently, the county could have explored transferring ownership of the memorial to RPAI.

The councilman praised the court’s ruling as it relates to the Towson monument.

“The Wayside Cross has stood for a century as an expression of solidarity with those who served in the armed forces, not a religious statement,” Marks said.

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