A coalition of atheists that lost a fight against a cross-shaped memorial in Prince George’s County, Maryland, to 49 World War I soldiers still demands that the site be demolished.
The American Legion is defending the 40-foot-tall cross at the intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg as an honor to the soldiers.
To destroy it would be to “exhibit a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause tradition,” contends a new brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by First Liberty Institute on behalf of the legion and others.
The case centers on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, which has been a target of the American Human Association and others for several years because of its shape: a Latin cross.
The AHA, joined by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, claimed in district court that the memorial violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. But a federal judge decided the claim was nonsense and upheld the rights of the state to maintain the memorial.
“This veterans memorial has stood in honor of the fallen for almost 100 years and should be allowed to stand for 100 years more,” Noel Francisco, lead counsel for the American Legion said earlier in the case. “We stand ready to defend the memorial and the men it honors against this meritless attack.”
“The humanist group is facing an uphill battle on this appeal,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute. “After a thorough analysis of the facts and the law, the court was clear that the memorial is completely lawful. We are confident the Fourth Circuit will agree and uphold the constitutionality of this historic veterans memorial.”
It was proposed by a community group at the time of World War I and later completed by the American Legion to contain a plaque listing the names of 49 men from Prince George’s County who died in the conflict.
The ownership of the site had changed hands several times. And the court found it wasn’t yet clear who owned it at certain points. But Judge Deborah Chasanow said that didn’t matter, as WND previously reported.
The judge applied U.S. Supreme Court precedent and found that the disputed location has a secular purpose, meaning its primary effect does not support or oppose religion and it does not excessively entangle the state in religion.
In a new brief submitted to the 4th Circuit, lawyers working for the memorial said the cross is an internationally recognized symbol honoring men who gave their lives in World War I.
Shackelford 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,” he said. “We must protect these memorials and other monuments that honor our nation’s military heroes.”
The new filing submitted to the 4th Circuit explained the purpose and reason for the shape from one of the original sponsors, Mrs. Martin Redman, who in 1920 said: “The chief reason I feel so deeply in this matter, my son, William F. Redman, lost his life in France and because of that I feel that our memorial cross is, in a way, his grave stone.”
The brief points out that the builders chose the cross shape but “not out of religious motivation” and specifically to represent the wooden crosses under which the fallen soldiers were buried overseas.
“A reasonable objective observer, acquainted with the purpose, content, setting, and history of the memorial, would understand that the commission’s highway expansion purpose was mundanely secular; that the original builders chose the cross shape for the memorial not out of religious motivations, but specifically to recall the foreign grave makers of their fallen loved ones; that because of those grave markers, the cross shape became an internationally recognized symbol uniquely associated with WWI; that the builders did not merely erect a cross, but also included secular, commemorative symbols; that the memorial has only ever been used for commemorative purposes; that the community has only ever regarded the memorial as a WWI memorial; and that the memorial stood for 90 years without complaint before plaintiffs initiated this litigation.”
The site came under government control because although it was built on private land, the local highways over the years expanded to the point the state thought safety issues were significant enough to take control of the site, which is now in a median.
“The AHA’s arguments boil down to a claim that the memorial’s employment of a cross shape should inevitably lead to its unconstitutionality. This is simply not the law,” the brief argued. “The memorial was built as a memorial, it has only ever been used as a memorial, and it has always been regarded by the community as a memorial. The Establishment Clause does not require the court to reach into this community and tear out a cherished landmark.”
While atheist groups for years have been opposing any public images of a cross, the cooperation of Islam-promoting CAIR makes for strange bedfellows.
But Islam has for centuries recoiled at the image of the cross, considering it a form of blasphemy. Muslims do not believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, nor do they believe he died on a Roman cross for the salvation of