While a Supreme Court nominee has been dominating headlines, two potential court cases have been quietly waiting under the radar. These cases, which could potentially be taken up by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, were previously decided by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. They are set to go before the Supreme Court this year.
A panel recently looked at these cases on Tuesday to determine if they should be heard in the Supreme Court. According to Amy Howe, moderator of the panel and founder of SCOTUSBlog, the following was the outcome of their panel meeting:
“These cases are going to be up before the justices at their conference next Monday. So, we could hear something if the Supreme Court sort of follows the practice that it has for the last couple of years, we could hear something as soon as Thursday, September 27.”
Obviously, that hasn’t happened — but it does set the stage of what we could hear from the court as soon as it resumes. Let’s take a closer look at the cases.
Rowan County v. Lund
This case revolves around North Carolina commissioners who begin their county meetings in prayer. The commissioners take turns leading the prayers and often start their prayer off with a statement like “let us bow our heads and pray.”
A number of the community members have objected to the prayer and filed a lawsuit in the federal district court, claiming citizens were “coerced” to pray. The district court ruled that the prayer ritual did in fact violate the Establishment Clause. This came after a three panel judge in the Fourth Circuit previously ruled that praying in this capacity did not violate the Constitution. After this ruling, the case was taken back before the Fourth Circuit in its entirety, where its ruling was changed.
David Courtman Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel explained the problem with the case.
“The argument is it is OK to bring in outside people or bring in a chaplain but if you have commissioners themselves do it, well now, it is unconstitutional? The next question that is being litigated is who can pray?” he asked.
This last point by Courtman puts it into perspective. Who can pray? This question is one that hopefully the Supreme Court will consider wisely as they examine this case. This case’s outcome should be of paramount importance to anyone who believes praying in public should be constitutionally protected.
The American Legion v. American Humanist Association
This case involves a huge, 40-foot cross displayed in Bladensburg, Maryland, and originally took place last October. The cross is situated on public property and is part of a war memorial, constructed by the American Legion and Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. A district court originally ruled in favor of leaving the cross in place, but later the Fourth Circuit ruled the following:
“The Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity.” Therefore, they believe leaving it in place promotes religion and ruled in favor of removing the cross.
Jeffery Harris, a partner with Consovoy McCarthy Park PLLc, who is involved in the Supreme Court petition regarding this case, took issue with this logic for what for may seems like an obvious problem.
“Two of the most prominent World War I memorials at Arlington Cemetery, which is federal land, are in the shape of a Latin Cross,” he pointed out.
He went on to add the fact that the Fourth Circuit had previously ruled in favor of leaving the crosses standing on federal land.
“I think the court was really straining to say why this cross has to go but the ones in Arlington Cemetery are fine,” he continued. “I think if we reach a world where you can have a World War I cross on federal land in Arlington Cemetery but not on state land in the war memorial park in Bladensburg, it is more of an indictment of doctrine than anything else.”
Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said it was “hard to predict” if the Supreme Court would choose to review the Bladensburg cross case. According to Luchenitser, “the court has passed on other cross cases over the years.” Over 100 members of Congress signed a petition in July urging the Supreme Court to review the Bladensburg cross case, whether or not they will do so remains to be seen.
The symbol of the cross is one rich in meaning to believers. For a town to remove such a symbol simply because it might “offend” someone is a travesty. All believers should be following this case and hope the Supreme Court does the right thing throughout their review of the situation.
~ 1776 Christian