Large Cross on Maryland Public Property Has 'Legitimately Secular Purpose,' Federal Court Rules

(Photo: Liberty Institute)A veterans memorial located in Bladensburg, Maryland.

A Maryland veterans memorial with a large cross is constitutional, a federal court ruled.

U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled Monday that the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial could include a forty-foot tall Latin cross.

In her decision, Chasanow concluded that the Bladensburg cross was constitutional since it passed the legal precedent of not having an exclusively religious purpose.

"Although the Latin cross is undeniably a religious symbol … Other courts have recognized that displaying a cross to honor fallen soldiers is a legitimately secular purpose, and does not always promote a religious message," wrote Judge Chasanow.

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(Photo: American Humanist Association)A 40-foot tall cross on government property in Bladensburg, Maryland.

"Even the purpose of the private citizens who were behind the Monument's construction 90 years ago was a predominantly secular one … The Monument's groundbreaking was a predominantly secular affair that also included the groundbreaking of the National Defense Highway."

Roger Byron, lead attorney on the case for the conservative law firm the Liberty Institute, told The Christian Post that he was pleased with the ruling.

"The decision protects not only this historic memorial, it also helps ensure that all the nation's veterans memorials will be protected," said Byron.

"Yesterday's ruling granted our motion and found the Memorial well within the bounds of the First Amendment."

Located at the intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1, the Bladensburg cross was a project of the American Legion that was completed in 1925.

In 2012, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission demanding that the cross be removed.

In February 2014, the AHA filed a lawsuit against the Planning Commission on behalf of two members who lived in the area and a third person from 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," read the suit.

"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)."

Monica Miller, spokesperson for the AHA, told CP that her organization was "still evaluating the decision" and therefore was unsure as to whether or not they would appeal.

"We are disappointed with the decision, as it fails to recognize the stigmatizing and alienating effect the government's enormous Latin cross has on non-Christian service members and veterans," said Miller.