By: Liberty McArtor – stream.org – November 4, 2018
The memorial honors 49 men who died serving in WWI, but the American Humanist Association argues it is unconstitutional because of its shape.
If a war memorial is shaped like a cross, is it unconstitutional? That’s what the U.S. Supreme Court will decide next year. The court announced Friday it will hear arguments regarding a nearly 100-year-old WWI veterans memorial in Maryland.
Called the Peace Cross, the memorial stands amid an intersection in Bladensburg. It can be found just six miles outside Washington, D.C.
Local mothers spearheaded the memorial immediately after WWI. The project began in 1919. The American Legion got involved, working to finish the cross in 1925.
The 40-foot-tall figure honors 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland. Each died in the war. The veterans’ names are engraved on a plaque at the bottom of the cross. The words Valor, Endurance, Courage, and Devotion adorn each side.
The American Humanist Association began its campaign against the memorial in 2014. It argues the cross shape is unconstitutional.
According to the AHA, it “endorses Christianity and fosters excessive government entanglement with religion.” The Peace Cross is currently funded, owned and maintained by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
AHA also contends the cross is in “dangerous disrepair.”
Is it Constitutional?
First Liberty Institute represents The American Legion. The nonprofit law firm disagrees that the cross runs afoul of the Constitution. In its petition, First Liberty writes that the Peace Cross “has only ever been a war memorial.”
The cross was initially built on private land and privately funded, First Liberty adds. It’s now on public land “only because of traffic safety concerns that arose 40 years after the memorial was built.”
Is the Peace Cross unconstitutional “merely” because of its shape? That’s what attorneys want the Supreme Court to determine.
War memorials with religious imagery are common in the U.S.
“The underlying situation,” said First Liberty general counsel Hiram Sasser, is “all these WWI memorials that happen to be crosses, are they going to be constitutional on government land?”
First Liberty defended another WWI memorial before SCOTUS in 2009. The Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial is also in the shape of a cross. The court allowed it to stand, but only allowed after a land transfer. It didn’t address the constitutionality of such memorials on government land.
What’s at Stake
The Peace Cross has plenty of support. Multiple parties filed amicus briefs to SCOTUS on its behalf. Briefs include those from Medal of Honor recipients, the Islam & Religious Freedom Action Team of the Religious Institute, and 109 U.S. senators and house members.
The Congress members’ brief raises concerns about the Fourth Circuit’s decision. It “calls into question the constitutionality of countless federal monuments, historic places, and national traditions.” The members also argue that the Constitution does not require “absolute” separation of Church and State.
Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan supports the memorial. So does the state’s Democratic Attorney General, Brian E. Frosh.
“We look forward to this issue finally being laid to rest,” Hogan tweeted Friday.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case next year.
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