When the government buys property that for years has featured a memorial with a large cross on it honoring those killed in war, must it remove the cross to “separate church and state?”

Common sense says of course not, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments about it on Thursday. The case, which we’ve discussed before, involves a 40-foot memorial honoring 49 people of Prince George’s County, Md., who died in World War I. The apt words, “endurance,” “valor,” “devotion,” and “courage,” are inscribed on the memorial, which was paid for in 1919 with money raised by 10 mothers who lost their sons. In 1961, the town of Bladensburg bought the land for traffic safety improvements.

Now, three aggressive atheist groups say the cross must be eliminated because it is on government land and unconstitutionally is an “establishment of religion.” Tendentious drivel!

The government owns burial grounds everywhere, such as in Normandy, France, and Arlington National Cemetery, where thousands of graves are marked with crosses. Congress, state legislatures, and the armed services employ chaplains. The First Amendment does not prohibit voluntary or casual interactions with religion or religious symbols; it merely forbids the government from coercing people into specific denominational faiths or practices.

A cross to honor war dead, perhaps especially one that existed before the government owned the land, coerces nobody. What the atheist groups want is not to prevent the establishment of religion but to expand the state, and in doing so, to invoke the separation of church and state to force religion out of as many nooks and crannies of public life as they can. The First Amendment is not intended to be a club with which the state can smash the church. Indeed, the opposite is true; the amendment exists to make sure government lets religions flourish. ….

[Full editorial, here.]