Summary: An appeals court found that the Bladensburg “Peace Cross” was unconstitutional.
A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that the “Peace Cross” in Bladensburg, Maryland was unconstitutional. The 40-foot cross was erected to honor those who fought in World War I, but the court said that it violates the separation of church and state.
“The Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity,” the court stated. “And here, it is 40 feet tall; prominently displayed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds.Therefore, we hold that the purported war memorial breaches the ‘wall of separation between Church and State.”
According to The Baltimore Sun, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va. said the cross-shaped war memorial “excessively entangles” the government with religion. The court added that the Peace Cross, also known as the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, endorses Christianity.
The ruling reverses a 2015 decision that said the cross is not religious and that the site is used exclusively for celebrating federal holidays. The Peace Cross was erected in 1925 and honors Prince George’s County residents who died in World War I. On its base, the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage” and “devotion” are inscribed along with the names of soldiers who died.
The Peace Cross lawsuit was filed by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates the separation of church and state.
“Government war memorials should respect all veterans, not just those from one religious group,” Roy Speckhardt of American Humanist Association said in a statement.
Adrian R. Gardner, general counsel to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said that the group would appeal. They own the land where the cross stands, and they have spent almost $117,000 maintaining it.
“For now, the disposition of the case is still pending, and the commission has no immediate plan to make any changes relating to the memorial,” Gardner said.
The decision was 2-1 and written by Judge Stephanie D. Thacker and Judge James A. Wynn Jr. 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.
“In the majority’s view, the memorial is unconstitutional based predominantly on the size of the cross, and neither its secular features nor history could overcome the presumption,” Gregory wrote. “But such a conclusion is contrary to our constitutional directive.”
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