|dc.description.abstract||2019 Supreme Court Celebration Competition Problem
A 40-foot tall monument has stood (and still stands) in the median of an intersection in a small Iowa town, since its completion in 1925. It memorializes local residents who died in combat in World War I. The Sioux County Parks Commission now owns the land and maintains the monument, which is in proximity to other war memorial monuments and serves as a venue for the county’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day events. County resources have been used to maintain and light the “Peace Cross,” including $100,000 recently budgeted to repair and restore the cross itself.
The plaintiffs allege that ownership, maintenance, and display of the Peace Cross monument on public property is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause, which says Congress, states, and local governments “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Under the Lemon test, government action survives this type of challenge if it is driven by a secular purpose (at least in part), has a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion or any particular sect, and does not excessively entangle the government with religion. The District Court found that the Peace Cross monument passed this test, but a majority of judges on the Court of Appeals disagreed. Beyond that clash, there are concerns that Lemon does not provide useful guidance in cases involving monuments—like Van Orden, which applied “legal judgment” and relied on history and tradition to uphold the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on state capitol grounds. Of course, various judges to rule on this claim also disagreed on whether it passed the Van Orden test.
The two questions before the Supreme Court are:
(1) When faced with a claim that a monument or display violates the Establishment Clause, should courts apply the Lemon test, or should they apply Van Orden—or something else entirely?
(2) Does this Peace Cross monument survive the applicable test? Does it violate the Establishment Clause for the Sioux County Parks Commission to own and maintain this 40-foot cross, as a war memorial for local residents who fought in World War I?||