Save 40-Foot Tall Maryland Memorial Cross, 109 Members of Congress Tell Supreme Court

Bladensburg Cross
A veterans memorial located in Bladensburg, Maryland. |

109 members of Congress have signed a petition urging the United States Supreme Court to hear an appeal meant to save a 40-foot tall cross placed on a war memorial in Maryland from being removed due to an atheist group's lawsuit.

In late June, the First Liberty Institute and others filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on behalf of the American Legion and others to prevent the removal of a monument commonly called the Bladensburg Cross.

In an amicus brief filed last Friday, members of Congress led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana asked the Supreme Court to consider the appeal and stop the removal of the cross.

The brief argued that if the lower court ruling by a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel against the cross is allowed to stand, it could endanger numerous other religious memorials on public property.

"Action by this Court is especially critical because the decision below calls into question the constitutionality of countless federal monuments, historic places, and national traditions that use a cross or other 'inherently religious' symbols or language to commemorate our nation's history and to reflect values shared by the American people," read the official summary for the brief.

In a statement released last Friday, Sen. Cruz denounced the Fourth Circuit panel decision as being based on "a perverse interpretation of the Establishment Clause."

"Our men and women in uniform will be better served by building more memorials to their bravery, not tearing them down," stated Cruz.

"I am grateful for Representative Scalise's leadership in the House, and I urge the Supreme Court to defend the religious liberty of every American."

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the annual International Christian Concern Capitol Hill policy day in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2017. |

Placed at the intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1, the Bladensburg Cross was an American Legion memorial project completed in 1925 meant to honor those who lost their lives during the First World War.

In 2012, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission demanding that the cross be removed.

In February 2014, the AHA filed a lawsuit against the Planning Commission on behalf of two members who lived in the area and a third person from Beltsville.

U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled in late November 2015 that the cross was constitutional, as it fulfilled a secular purpose.

"Although the Latin cross is undeniably a religious symbol ... Other courts have recognized that displaying a cross to honor fallen soldiers is a legitimately secular purpose, and does not always promote a religious message," wrote Judge Chasanow.

AHA appealed Chasanow's decision in December 2015 and in October of last year, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2–1 in favor of their lawsuit against the cross.

"The monument here has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion. The Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity," read the panel ruling.

In March, the Fourth Circuit voted 8-6 to reject an appeal in the case. In a concurrent opinion, Judge James Wynn rejected the petitioner's argument that the cross held a mostly secular meaning, as it was part of a war memorial.

" ... to accept the Commission's assertion that the Latin cross erected at the Bladensburg intersection does not convey a predominantly sectarian message would prohibit the ability of those who raised the symbol to prominence to continue to safeguard and define its primary meaning," wrote Judge Wynn.

In one of the dissenting opinions, however, Judge Paul Niemeyer warned that letting the panel decision stand "needlessly puts at risk hundreds of monuments with similar symbols standing on public grounds across the country, such as those in nearby Arlington National Cemetery."

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