Fight Over Cross Honoring WWI Veterans Could Have Broad Impact on Memorials Nationwide

The Memorial Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md.
The Memorial Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md. / Getty Images
July 31, 2018

Twenty-eight states have joined together to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to protect a 93-year-old cross honoring World War I veterans, and the case has broader implications for memorials nationwide.

Several attorneys general announced on Monday they joined the multi-state coalition seeking to overturn a lower court's ruling that the memorial cross in Bladensburg, Md., be removed because it violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The case has broader implications for the First Amendment and could impact memorials nationwide including the 24-foot granite cross which stands near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

The amicus brief urges the Supreme Court to consider and protect veterans' memorials across the country which include religious symbols.

"We have a deep respect for the brave men and women who sacrificed all for our country," said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who led the bipartisan group in its filing. "Expressing our gratitude with memorials that include religious symbols in no way violates the U.S. Constitution and the freedom these courageous men and women fought to preserve."

"Veterans memorials are reminders of the service and sacrifice of Americans who gave their lives defending our country's freedom. Tearing down any part of a veteran's memorial dishonors service members' sacrifice and undermines the very values our Constitution was intended to protect," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said that monuments honoring those who lost their lives in war "transcend religion and the call to remove them is an affront to all veterans."

"The historic cross should stand as a symbol of the sacrifices and freedoms earned by our veterans. It is our Constitution and veterans' sacrifices that give community leaders and the mothers whose sons have been lost the freedom to choose how to recognize these significant sacrifices," said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley.

The amicus brief claims division and confusion has grown over the Establishment Clause in the recent decades and this case "is an egregious example of the consequences from this uncertain state of law."

One hundred and nine members of Congress also signed an amicus brief in support of the cross.

The 40-foot cross in Maryland was erected by community members and mothers whose sons died in World War I. It was completed by the American Legion.

The fight over the memorial began after the American Humanist Association and others filed a lawsuit in 2014 to force the state of Maryland to remove it.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last October the memorial cross must be torn down. This past March the court refused to reconsider its earlier decision.