Vets memorial cross gets Supreme Court lifeline

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a ruling against the Bladensburg Cross, a near-century old memorial in Bladensburg, Md. honoring 49 soldiers who died in WWI.
First Liberty photo
BLADENSBURG, Md. (BP) -- The U.S. Supreme court has agreed to hear the case of a near-century old World War I veterans' memorial in Bladensburg, Md., previously ordered dismantled because it's a cross.

Erected in 1925 with private funds from The American Legion and mothers of slain soldiers, the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial stood unchallenged for 90 years, until the American Humanist Association (AHA) sued in 2014.

First Liberty Institute and international law firm Jones Day, representing The American Legion, are asking the high court to overturn an appeals court ruling that said the cross violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"For nearly 100 years the memorial has stood to honor these 49 sons of Prince George's County who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country," Jones Day attorney and lead counsel Michael Carvin said in a press release Nov. 2, when the court announced its plans. "The Supreme Court should not allow their memory to be bulldozed."

The court's ruling will affect thousands of similar memorials nationally, First Liberty said.

"If this monument is bulldozed to the ground," First Liberty President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said, "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."

Mothers of the slain solders requested in 1919 that the memorial be shaped like a cross, First Liberty said, "to recall the cross-shaped markers standing over the countless American graves on the Western Front of that war."

The AHA lost its first court outing against the cross in 2015, when the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled the memorial constitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed that decision.

Among religious liberty advocates supporting the cross are the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which submitted amicus briefs to the high court.

"Using a cross to honor the lives of 49 World War I soldiers from the local community is hardly tantamount to establishing Christianity as the official religion of Prince George's County, Maryland," ACLJ said of the case in a press release today (Nov. 5). "The kind of religious establishment prohibited by the First Amendment entails (among other things) coercing individuals to support or participate in religious practices -- or punishing them for failing to do so. The Peace Cross clearly does nothing of the sort."

In a similar case, Becket is representing the City of Pensacola, Fla., in its fight to protect a 70-year-old World War II cross memorial that the AHA has successfully challenged. The Supreme Court would be the next step in the Pensacola case.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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