The US Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a sensitive case on whether a cross-shaped war memorial erected near Washington nearly a century ago violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
The case of the nearly 40-foot (12-meter) tall cross, which the top US bench will not discuss before 2019, will offer a test of Donald Trump's newly appointed justice Brett Kavanaugh -- a conservative accused of sexual assault who the US Senate narrowly confirmed in October after a bitter political fight.
The Washington-based American Humanist Association (AHA) holds that the monument violates the US Constitution's First Amendment forbidding the government from favouring any one religion because the cross is located on public land and its maintenance financed by public funds.
The group lost an initial court case on the issue but an appeals court disagreed with the first ruling.
"The display aggrandises the Latin cross in a manner that says to any reasonable observer that the Commission either places Christianity above other faiths, views being American and Christian as one and the same, or both," the appeals court said in December 2016.
The American Legion, a US veterans organisation, then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The high court's decision will set a precedent for future cases involving US monuments that have religious symbolism.
Maryland's Republican governor, Larry Hogan, thanked the Supreme Court in a tweet, saying "we look forward to this issue finally being laid to rest" and the cross "standing tall for generations to come." The AHA said, "we remain confident in our legal position."
"Rather than continue to waste taxpayer dollars repairing an exclusively Christian symbol, the government should use that money to construct a new memorial atop the historic platform that will honour all war veterans," says the group's executive director Roy Speckhardt.
(With inputs from agencies.)