BLADENSBURG, Md. — A humanist group in Washington, D.C. has filed an appeal of a recent ruling declaring a veterans memorial in the shape of a cross to be constitutional.
As previously reported, the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, also known as the “peace cross,” was erected in 1925 by the American Legion to honor the lives of 49 men from Prince George County who died during the war.
The cross stands 40 feet tall in Memorial Park, and also features a plaque that reads, “The right is more precious than the peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest our hearts; to such a task we dedicate ourselves.” The site is mainly used by the American Legion for Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations.
Last year, the American Humanist Association (AHA) sued the the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission over the presence of the cross, alleging that it violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“When the government erects an exclusively Christian monument on government property, it violates this central command of the Establishment Clause by sending a clear message that Christianity is the preferred religion over all others,” said AHA attorney Monica Miller in a statement surrounding the filing of the suit.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow ruled that the monument is constitutional because it is used for nonreligious purposes and is meant to honor war vets rather than promote any religious message.
“The monument’s secular commemorative purpose is reinforced by the plaque, the American Legion’s seal, and the words ‘valor,’ ‘endurance,’ ‘courage,’ and ‘devotion’ written on it. None of these features contains any religious reference,” she wrote. “[The construction of the cross] was not an attempt to set the imprimatur of the state on a particular creed. Rather, those who erected the cross intended simply to honor our nation’s fallen soldiers.”
On Monday, AHA filed a notice of appeal with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The Bladensburg Cross is an enormous Christian symbol on government property and has the clear effect of endorsing religion,” Miller said in a statement. “We will continue defending the First Amendment rights of our clients as well as all non-Christian service members who are excluded from the government’s Latin cross monument.”
The law firms Jones Day and the Liberty Institute state that they welcome the opportunity to defend the memorial.
“This veterans memorial has stood in honor of the fallen for almost 100 years and should be allowed to stand for 100 years more,” said Noel Francisco of Jones Day, which is representing the American Legion. “We stand ready to defend the memorial and the men it honors against this meritless attack.”