A fiery debate at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday showcased a stark divide among the justices over which monuments containing religious symbolism should be permitted stand on public ground.
The justices sparred over the meaning of a Latin cross erected in 1925 that looms large over a crowded Maryland intersection in the suburbs of the nation's capital. The cross, put up to memorialize men who died in the First World War, was envisioned by mothers of the fallen but is now maintained by a government agency.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of three Jewish justices, took a firm stance on the sectarian meaning of the cross, noting that people wear them "to show their devotion" to their religion. In response to arguments that the cross was tied to the World War I war dead, Ginsburg remarked that she herself had traveled to Flanders Fields.
"Are there not graves marked by Stars of David?" Ginsburg asked rhetorically.
Meanwhile, the two newest members on the bench, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch seemed split in their thinking, with Gorsuch expressing skepticism about whether those opposing the cross even have standing and Kavanaugh asking tough questions of the cross' defenders.
The nation's top court has never established a clear and enduring test for when such displays violate the Constitution's Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which stipulates that Congress may not pass a law "respecting an establishment of religion" and has been interpreted in different and at times conflicting forms.