A Virginia federal appeals court has ruled that a cross-shaped monument, erected in 1925 to memorialize 49 local men who were killed in WWI, is in violation of the Constitution. The court concluded that this memorial “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion.”
The plaintiffs, a group called The American Humanist Association (AHA), maintain that the Bladensburg, Maryland monument, known as the “Peace Cross,” violates the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. They argue that it “discriminates against patriotic soldiers who are not Christian, sending a callous message to non-Christians that Christians are worthy of veneration while they may as well be forgotten.”
AHA is a non-profit atheist association. “In September, the group won a similar case in which it sought the removal of a 34-foot-tall cross displayed in a city-owned park in Florida.”
AHA, seeking removal of the war memorial, filed their lawsuit in 2014. In 2015, a Maryland court decision allowed the statue to stand. Later, a Virginia federal appeals court overturned this ruling.
In a closely divided vote in March, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit characterized the monument as an unconstitutional government entanglement in religion and “preeminent symbol of Christianity.” One judge had suggested that stripping the arms from the cross could resolve the case.
Monica Miller, the lawyer representing the atheist group, said, “the 4th Circuit’s decision correctly recognized the government’s prominent Christian cross memorial unconstitutionally favors Christian veterans to the exclusion of all others.”
The Peace Cross was paid for by the American Legion and local businesses and individuals and is maintained by a state commission. Those who support maintaining the statue argue:
Earlier Supreme Court rulings determined that monuments, particularly longstanding ones, which incorporate religious symbolism to send a secular message did not go against the Constitution.
The shape of the “Peace Cross,” which they maintain falls into that category, was picked as a means to bear a likeness to cross-shaped grave markers used for soldiers buried in American cemeteries overseas, supporters said.
So, in 2019, the Supreme Court will determine if the 40 foot cross “is a secular memorial to those who died during World War I or an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.”
It’s unclear how the Supreme Court might rule in this case. The Court has taken on similar cases in the past and their rulings have varied.
However, given the court’s current conservative majority, I can’t imagine they would vote to raze the cross.
If they were to decide to uphold the decision of the Virginia appeals court and the statue is destroyed, a dangerous precedent will have been set. There would be calls for the removal of countless comparable memorials throughout the country. If allowed to go too far, it would be tantamount to erasing our history in the name of political correctness.
Where would it stop? Should we destroy all monuments and memorials that bear any suggestion of Christianity? Should we then seek permission from European leaders to replace all of the cross-shaped grave markers in the American military cemeteries over there? Although the grave markers in Arlington have a neutral shape, most are inscribed with crosses. Should those be replaced as well?
Imagine if this were, instead, a tribute to 49 Muslims? Millions on the left would condemn the very idea of its elimination. “How can we even think of such a thing?” “It will offend Muslims everywhere.” The outrage would be deafening.
Recall the 2010 proposal to build the $100 million Cordoba Mosque just two blocks away from Ground Zero? Obama announced his support for the project. Then-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg actually said, “If we don’t build it, the terrorists will win!” What? And, of course, the mainstream media were behind it.
One of the main reasons settlers came to America was to escape religious intolerance and persecution. Here, people were free to practice their faith in whatever manner they wished. They sought freedom and then built a nation based on that principle.
If only we had a time machine, we could place the entire membership of the American Humanist Society inside a trench during the fall of 1918 as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive raged all around them. They may finally understand the meaning behind the many US monuments that allow us, first to acknowledge and then as a permanent reminder, of our nation’s courageous defenders. If it weren’t for these brave men, we wouldn’t even have a constitution that could be violated.