A federal appeals court this week cast doubt on the future of a towering cross-shaped monument that has marked a major intersection in Maryland for decades.

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the 40-foot-tall memorial maintained with thousands of dollars in public funds “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion.”

The court’s ruling sends the case back to the District Court in Baltimore and comes as public displays of religion have been challenged in courts throughout the country.

The question for the 4th Circuit was whether the cross at Maryland Route 450 and Route 1 in Bladensburg is a memorial to local men lost in World War I or an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion that should be removed from public land.

Built in 1925 with funding from local families and the American Legion, the marble-and-concrete cross honors 49 Prince George’s County men who died in the war. On the cross’s base are the words valor, endurance, courage and devotion. A bronze tablet lists the names of the men and includes a quote from President Woodrow Wilson.

Supporters said the monument, known as the Peace Cross, is commemorative, not religious, and is part of a larger memorial park in the immediate area honoring veterans of several wars.

Even with the nonreligious elements, the court said, “the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones,” making it an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment that prevents the government from favoring a particular religion.

“The cross is by far the most prominent monument in the area, conspicuously displayed at a busy intersection,” wrote Judge Stephanie Thacker, who was joined by Judge James Wynn in the opinion by the appeals court in Richmond, Virginia. Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote a separate opinion in which he dissented in part.

The challenge was brought by the American Humanist Association, a Washington-based group that represents atheists and others. The group does not dispute that the monument is a memorial, but said in court that a giant cross on government property sends a message of exclusion in violation of the First Amendment.

A District Court judge in 2015 declined to order the cross removed from public land, saying it is a historically significant secular war memorial and that the government agency had a nonreligious reason for maintaining it.