Maryland cross: religious symbol or war memorial? Court will decide
BLADENSBURG, Md. — To some it’s a blatant religious symbol, 40 feet tall, sitting on a median in the center of a busy highway intersection on government-owned land. To others, it is a 91-year-old piece of history, a symbol of honor, service and peace and a landmark to be preserved.
In the coming months, a U.S. appeals court will have to decide whether the monument dedicated to the memory of 49 local men killed in World War I – known as the Peace Cross – is in keeping with the Constitution’s First Amendment and the separation of church and state.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard arguments in the case earlier this month, after a district court judge ruled in November 2015 against a lawsuit asking to have the monument removed. The case is one of a growing number of challenges to veterans memorials and monuments because of their religious imagery, giving rise to legal questions about how those symbols should be interpreted in a historical context.
“If the Bladensburg Memorial must come down, then so too must the many veterans memorials across the country which bear religious imagery,” the First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom firm in Plano, Texas, said in an online summary of the case. The group, along with the Jones Day law firm, is providing free defense counsel on behalf of the monument. “This would require tearing down the Argonne Cross in Arlington (National) Cemetery and sandblasting the word “God” from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”
Erected in 1925 with funds raised by families and the now dissolved Snyder-Farmer Post of the American Legion, the Peace Cross was created to memorialize men from Prince George’s County who died in World War I. It was designed and constructed by local stone carver and artisan John Joseph Earley, using his unique method of creating colorful precast concrete aggregate panels. The Legion symbol is emblazoned on the cross, as are the words “courage,” “valor,” “devotion” and “endurance.” A plaque on the bottom lists 49 names and has a quote from President Woodrow Wilson:
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