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Appeals Court Hears Case of Cross-Shaped WWI Veterans Memorial

Bladensburg Peace Cross
The American Legion, with assistance from the First Liberty Institute, is challenging an effort by the American Humanist Association to have the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a memorial to World War I veterans, destroyed, altered, or removed from its present location. (Public Domain Image)

In 1925, a local post of The American Legion in Bladensburg, Maryland, erected a cross-shaped memorial to honor 49 local men who gave their lives in World War I.

That memorial has stood for more than 90 years, but in February of 2014, the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit that alleges the memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it is the shape of a Latin cross. They demand the monument be demolished, altered or removed.

A little more than a year ago, a judge in the U.S. District Court for Maryland issued an opinion that the memorial is constitutional. However, the American Humanist Association appealed the case to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard the case Wednesday afternoon.

In a brief filed by the Jones Day law firm and the First Liberty Institute, The American Legion asked the appeals court to uphold the district court's ruling. The American Legion, the largest veterans service organization in the country, is committed to defending the honor of the nation's military veterans and the memorials that honor their service. 

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Additionally, a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress filed an amicus brief in support of the memorial in which they argued the use of a cross as a military symbol of courage, sacrifice and remembrance, especially during World War I, is both deeply rooted and widespread throughout the nation and around the world. They further contended that prohibiting the use of a cross to honor our veterans would exhibit hostility to religion that is contrary to the First Amendment.

"Throughout our nation's history, the military has used the cross shape to honor military service and sacrifice," First Liberty Institute Deputy Chief Counsel Hiram Sasser said. "We stand to honor the selfless sacrifice of our fallen heroes and ask the court to uphold the constitutionality of this historic memorial."

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