The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, known by some as the Peace Cross, has stood tall in Prince George's County, Maryland since 1925 to honor 49 Bladensburg-area men who died serving during WWI. Its fate may be in jeopardy after a federal appeals court ruling.
The memorial is unconstitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled by 2-1 Wednesday, because it “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion.”
The challenge to the monument was first brought by the American Humanist Association, who opposed that there was a giant cross on property owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The "offensive" cross-shaped memorial is complete with the following offensive language.
Built in 1925 with funding from local families and The American Legion, the marble-and-cement cross honors 49 Prince George’s County men who died in the war. On the base are the words: valor, endurance, courage and devotion. A bronze tablet lists the names of the men and includes a quote from President Woodrow Wilson. The monument is part of a larger memorial park in the immediate area honoring veterans of several wars.
Despite its intent to honor our nation's veterans, “the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones,” the 4th Circuit panel concluded.
It is a local ruling that could have national consequences for memorials.
“Today’s decision sets dangerous precedent by completely ignoring history, and it threatens removal and destruction of veterans memorials across America,” Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty, said in a press release.
Eight Republican and Democratic members of Congress filed a joint amicus brief with the Fourth Circuit in support of the memorial and Peace Cross supporters are planning on appealing to the Supreme Court.
As Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote in his dissent in the 4th Circuit ruling, the First Amendment does not call for the government to “‘purge from the public sphere any reference to religion.’”