Atheist Group Sues to Remove 40-Foot Tall Cross From Gov't Property in Maryland

An atheist group has filed a lawsuit against a Maryland government agency over the placement of a 40-foot cross on government property.

The American Humanist Association filed suit Tuesday in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which oversees the property in Bladensburg, where the cross is located.

In addition to the AHA, named plaintiffs include two AHA members who live in the area and a third resident from nearby Beltsville.

"This action challenges the constitutionality of the defendant's ownership, maintenance and prominent display on public property of a massive Christian cross (the 'Bladensburg cross') as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S.Constitution, as applied to Maryland by the Fourteenth Amendment," reads the suit in part.

"The plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief and nominal damages under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against the defendant to redress this Establishment Clause violation, together with recovery of attorney's fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. §1988(b)."

The case against the Bladensburg cross is being handled by the AHA's legal wing, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Appignani's Legal Director David Niose said in a statement that the Bladensburg cross "violates the Establishment Clause."

"To any passerby, a huge cross such as this can only be understood as endorsing Christianity," said Niose.

"We can all support memorials to those who have fought for our country, but they cannot take the form of a massive religious symbol on government property."

Also known as the "peace cross," the Town of Bladensburg's 40-foot tall cross was dedicated in 1925 by the American Legion. It was built by volunteers with the Snyder-Farmer Post of the American Legion of Hyattsville in memory of the 49 men from Prince George's County who died in World War I.

Composed of cement and marble, in 1965 the cross was given lights so as to be visible to drivers during the evening hours.

In 2012, the AHA sent a letter to the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission demanding the removal of the peace cross from its present site on government property.

Their letter prompted protests from locals and the American Legion, who told local media that the AHA was being too sensitive on the issue.

"The Distinguished Air Cross -- is that a religious medal?" asked Moore. "They have the cross-hairs in a sight. Because the word 'cross' is there, is that a religious reference as well?" asked American Legion Commander Mike Moore to Fox 5.

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