Supreme Court sends Florida cross case back to lower court

Pointing to a decision last week in a Maryland case, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ordered an appeals court to reconsider a ruling that would have required the removal of a decades-old Latin cross from a Pensacola park.

Justices vacated a judgment that would have required the cross to come down and sent the issue back to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “for further consideration in light” of the Maryland decision.

Justices on June 20 said a large cross, erected after World War I, could remain on public land in Maryland. Pensacola appealed its case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower-court judge ruled that a cross in Bayview Park violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. 

Members of a three-judge panel of the appeals court last year lamented the ruling but said they were bound by precedent from a 1983 Georgia case.

“The city contends … that none of the plaintiffs here has suffered sufficient injury to have standing to sue and … that, in any event, the Bayview Park cross does not violate the Establishment Clause under current Supreme Court precedent,” the appeals court said. “If we were writing on a clean slate, we might well agree --- on both counts. But we are not --- and so we cannot.”

 In filing the Pensacola lawsuit, four plaintiffs argued that the presence of the cross on public land was a constitutionally prohibited “establishment of religion.”