Maryland governor fights against removal of 92-year-old ‘Peace Cross’

The World War I monument is a 'cherished community memorial' that 'does not violate the Constitution,' Gov. Larry Hogan said in defending the World War II monument.
Thu Oct 26, 2017 - 8:37 am EST
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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, October 26, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The governor of Maryland is now involved in defending the 92-year-old World War I memorial “Peace Cross.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan directed Attorney General Brian Frosh to file a “friend-of-the-court” brief after the American Humanist Association won its lawsuit to have the structure removed or demolished. The American Legion is appealing the Fourth Circuit’s decision.

“The conclusion that this memorial honoring veterans violates the Establishment clause offends common sense, is an affront to all veterans, and should not be allowed to stand,” the Republican governor wrote to the Democratic attorney general. “I believe, very strongly, that this cherished community memorial does not violate the Constitution. Your office will be Maryland’s legal voice in this important litigation.”

Frosh’s office has only said that the attorney general is “reviewing” the governor’s letter.

Set on a major thoroughfare just outside Washington, D.C., the 1925 monument does not depict, quote, or mention Jesus. “It is merely its shape that the Humanists find offensive,” the Baltimore Sun explained.

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to overrule a lower district court that upheld the monument’s purpose as not primarily religious, and therefore constitutional.

Judges Stephanie Thacker and James Wynn, Jr. determined the memorial “excessively entangles the government in religion” and “breaches” the separation of church and state.  They decreed, “The sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones” and the memorial “aggrandizes the Latin cross” such that an observer would conclude the government endorses Christianity.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roger Gregory argued that the Establishment Clause doesn’t mean government must “purge from the public sphere any reference to religion.”

“This Memorial stands in witness to the VALOR, ENDURANCE, COURAGE, and DEVOTION of the 49 residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, ‘who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world,’” he wrote separately. “I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”

The historic 40-foot “Peace Cross,” erected by the American Legion on July 13, 1925, to honor Bladensburg’s 49 fallen WWI soldiers, has stood for 92 years as a gathering place for community Memorial Day and Veterans Day honorings.  

The bottom of the non-denominational monument reads on its four sides, “Valor, Endurance, Courage, and Devotion.” In the middle of the cross is a gold star with “U.S.” in its center. The base includes a quote of WWI-era President Woodrow Wilson:

“The right is more precious than the peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest to our hearts; to such a task we dedicate ourselves.”

Cross monuments honoring WWI soldiers are commonplace all over the world. In fact, the defendants contend, criminalizing the use of a cross to honor the selfless sacrifice and courage of the nation’s veterans would make the government a hostile agent against religion, the free and public practice of which the Establishment Clause sought to defend.

The U.S. Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

A bipartisan group of eight congressmen and women filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the veterans’ monument. “The Establishment Clause does not prohibit the use of symbols with religious meaning to commemorate our nation’s history and to reflect values shared by the American people,” the legislators reasoned.

“Americans shouldn’t be forced to censor religion’s role in history simply to appease someone who is offended by it or who has a political agenda to remove all traces of religion from the public square,” the Alliance Defending Freedom’s David Cortman said in a separate case.

The ADF appeal asked the Supreme Court to decide if people can sue over a display just on the basis of personal offense. The appeal also asked the high court to determine how the Establishment Clause, which speaks to personal speech and activity, should be applied to monuments.

First Liberty Institute and Jones Day are co-defending the American Legion and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in the “Peace Cross” case.

  larry hogan, peace cross, religious freedom, world war i monument

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