By Mollee Ryan
Freshman Music Therapy major, Opinion editor
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
These were the wise words of Thomas Jefferson written in the First Amendment of the Constitution. These words give United States citizens the right to assemble, practice religion, the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.
But of course, these rights come with boundaries.
Jefferson wrote the following in a letter dating back to 1802 addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut.
“…religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God…that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate power of government reach actions only, & not opinions…thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
From these ideas formed the “separation between church and state” phrase. The phrase protects the right for U.S. citizens to practice any religion and prohibits government involvement.
Additionally, the government may not show bias for any specific religion, obviously.
Much debate has been thrown around through the years, as to what the phrase actually covers. It can be quite ambiguous at times. Does this separation mean there cannot be any reference to any religion, anywhere? Or are prominent religions acceptable if there is an equal balance between multiple religions? One of the most recent debates regarding this issue is the World War I memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland.
In 1925, the Bladensburg Peace Cross was built as a monument by local families and the American Legion to commemorate 49 World War I veterans and the end of the World War. The cross was paid for with private funds, but in 1961 the land was bought by a state commission, making it public property.
The legal battle began with the American Humanist Association, a nonprofit secular organization.
In 2012, the group filed a lawsuit claiming that the presence of the cross was an infringement on the “separation between church and state” phrase because of its presence on public property. But the state parks commission rebutted this by saying the cross was never meant as a religious symbol, rather a generic, secular monument for those who had passed, for crosses had become the “cultural symbol of the fallen,” per NBC news.
Neal Katyal, a Washington lawyer representing the parks commission, agreed with the state commission adding that tearing down the monument would display malice towards religion, which can be deemed unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision regarding the monument in late June.
I do not believe the cross should be torn down.
The cross has stood in the same spot for nearly 90 years and has never been viewed as controversial until now. Would tearing down this cross mean the government would have to tear down every other sign of religion as well, even if it was built secularly?
Doing that could potentially take away citizens’ right to freedom of practice. Similarly, taking down this cross, that was built as a symbol to mark the end of the war, would be an infringement upon U.S. citizens’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.