Religious Freedom Group Fights to Protect 90-Y-O Veterans Memorial Cross

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

First Liberty Institute, the largest legal organization in the nation specializing in defending religious freedom, filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals Monday to protect the 90-year-old cross-shaped Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial in Maryland from an atheist group that's pushing for it's removal.

The brief was filed in the Fourth Circuit court in conjunction with the law firm Jones Day for the American Legion, which erected the monument 90 years ago in honor of Bladensburg-area men who gave their lives in World War I, according to the institute. The American Legion is the largest veterans service organization in the country with approximately 2.2 million members.

A release shared with The Christian Post Tuesday explained that the law firms won an earlier lawsuit on behalf of the Legion at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland when the court upheld the constitutionality of the monument on Nov. 30, 2015, after the American Humanist Association alleged in February 2014 it violated the Establishment Clause.

On Dec. 28, 2015, however, the American Humanist Association appealed the court's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit alleging that the memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. They have demanded that it be demolished, altered or removed.

The brief, however, argues that the cross is an internationally recognized symbol honoring men who gave their lives in World War I and note that there is no available evidence of it being associated with any religious event.

"Although the memorial has been the site of regular patriotic and commemorative events since its inception, the AHA's expert could not identify any religious event at the Memorial in its nine-decade history, other than a 1931 event noted in The Washington Post. That article mentions that an out of-town preacher planned to hold a series of three Sunday services at the Memorial in August 1931. Nothing in the record, however, confirms whether the services occurred," explained the brief.

"This cross was erected to honor local American heroes who gave their lives in World War I. It complies with the law in every respect and should stay right where it is. Tearing it down would lead to the very religious divisiveness the Founders intended to avoid when they wrote the First Amendment," Noel Francisco, lead counsel for The American Legion and chair of Jones Day's government regulation practice stated in the release.

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, said: "The American Humanist Association is using the First Amendment to attack a 90-year-old veterans memorial simply because it is in the shape of a cross. That is sad and that is not the law. We must protect these memorials and other monuments that honor our nation's military heroes."

The brief notes that the memorial traces its origins to the immediate aftermath of WWI, when survivors of the war and the mothers of deceased service members wanted to create a memorial to their fallen comrades and sons.

Their use and adaptation of a cross shape was intended to recall the wooden crosses that first marked the graves of the fallen overseas — an image that became inextricably intertwined with public consciousness of the losses of WWI. After a private effort to build the memorial failed in 1919, returned veterans of the American Legion revived it and unveiled the completed memorial in 1925.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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