Giant cross in Virginia county ruled unconstitutional

Lester Mason
October 20, 2017

"Therefore, we hold that the purported war memorial breaches 'the wall of separation between church and state".

First Liberty, the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans, condemned the decision, saying it "sets a risky precedent by completely ignoring history, and it threatens removal and destruction of veterans memorials across America".

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Richmond ruled Wednesday that the 92-year-old monument known as the Bladensburg cross amounts to government sponsorship of a particular religion.

"The Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity", Judge Stephanie D. Thacker wrote. On Oct. 18 a federal appeals court declared the 40-foot-tall memorial unconstitutional in a 2-1 ruling that said the thousands of dollars in public funds for maintenance "has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion". The base of the memorial includes a quote from former President Woodrow Wilson alongside these words: "Memorial Cross is dedicated to the heroes of Prince George's County, Maryland, who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world".

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with American Humanist Associatioin and ruled in favor of the monument's removal, citing its cross shape as problematic.

Adrian R. Gardner, general counsel to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said that the group would appeal.

In 2014, the American Humanist Association - a group that believes in "being good without a god" - filed a lawsuit alleging the cross-shaped memorial is unconstitutional and demanding it be demolished, altered, or removed. The Washington Post reported that the state agency has spent about $117,000 to maintain and fix the memorial and has earmarked $100,000 for renovations.

Watch a local report on the ruling below.

Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote the dissent and questioned the significance of the cross' size, which was noted by Thacker and Wynn, who said that other crosses at government memorial sites were not in danger. Many argue that the monument represents history and the "valor", "endurance", "courage", and "devotion" of serviceman rather than explicitly endorsing religion.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director for the AHA, said government war memorials "should respect all veterans, not just those from one religious group", according to The Washington Post. At the center of the cross is a gold star.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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