Supreme Court Takes Case of 40-Foot Tall Bladensburg Cross Memorial Opposed by Atheist Group

Bladensburg Cross
A veterans memorial located in Bladensburg, Maryland. |

The United States Supreme Court will hear an appeal on whether a 40-foot tall cross dedicated to Americans who served in the First World War will be removed from public property.

Over the past few years, the Bladensburg cross has been the subject of a legal battle centered on if the memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

In an order issued last Friday, the high court agreed to hear the consolidated cases of America Legion, et al. v. American Humanist Association and Maryland-National Capital Park v. American Humanist Association, et al.

First Liberty Institute, which is representing the American Legion, released a statement on Friday hopeful that the Supreme Court will overturn a lower court decision against the cross.

"There are some who want to erase the memory of the service and sacrifice of these 49 fallen servicemen of Prince George's County," stated Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty.

"If this monument is bulldozed to the ground, it's only a matter of time before the wrecking ball turns on Arlington National Cemetery and the thousands of memorials like this one across the country."

AHA attorney Monica Miller, who serves as lead counsel in the case, stated last Friday that she felt that the lower court decision will prevail before the Supreme Court.

"We remain confident in our legal position and look forward to presenting arguments to the Supreme Court," said Miller.

"The Fourth Circuit's decision correctly recognized that the government's prominent Christian cross memorial unconstitutionally favors Christian veterans to the exclusion of all others."

In 2012, the AHA 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.

U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled in late November 2015 that the cross was constitutional, as it fulfilled the secular purpose of honoring fallen soldiers.

AHA appealed Chasanow's decision and in October of last year, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2–1 in favor of removing the cross.

In March, the Fourth Circuit voted 8-6 to reject an appeal in the case. In a concurrent opinion, Judge James Wynn rejected the petitioner's argument that the cross held a mostly secular meaning, as it was part of a war memorial.

" ... to accept the Commission's assertion that the Latin cross erected at the Bladensburg intersection does not convey a predominantly sectarian message would prohibit the ability of those who raised the symbol to prominence to continue to safeguard and define its primary meaning," wrote Judge Wynn.

In one of the dissenting opinions, however, Judge Paul Niemeyer warned that letting the panel decision stand "needlessly puts at risk hundreds of monuments with similar symbols standing on public grounds across the country, such as those in nearby Arlington National Cemetery."

In June, First Liberty and others appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent the removal of the cross. They were joined by 109 members of Congress in an amicus brief filed in late July.

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