The Supreme Court reversed a previous Fourth Circuit decision that found that the monument was unconstitutional due to its overt religious symbolism. The monument was installed in 1925 to honor local soldiers killed in World War I. Presently, the county maintains the grounds of the monument, which the American Humanist Association argued was an entanglement of government and religion.
Writing for the majority, Justice Alito issued strong criticism of the soc-called "Lemon Test" that has been used since 1972 case Lemon v. Kurtzman to determine if an action creates "excessive government entanglement with religion." Alito wrote that the test "presents particularly daunting problems" in cases that involve religious words or symbols that are primarily for commemoratory or ceremonial reasons.
"Together, these considerations counsel against efforts to evaluate such cases under Lemon and toward application of a presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices," wrote Alito.
The court determined that removing a longstanding monument like the Peace Cross "may no longer appear neutral, especially to the local community for which it has taken on particular meaning."
"A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion," he said, adding that "Militantly secular regimes have carried out such projects in the past, and for those with a knowledge of history, the image of monuments being taken down will be evocative, disturbing, and divisive."
While the Supreme Court did not reject outright the standards of the Lemon Test, the new decision limits its future application.