If you visit Bladensburg, Maryland, you’ll see a 40-foot-tall World War I memorial called “Peace Cross.” Not only is it clearly a Christian symbol, it’s on public property, maintained by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission:
In 2012, the American Humanist Association asked the Commission to take down he monument. It was perfectly fine to honor veterans, but not with a symbol that elevates one religion over all others and implies that only Christian soldiers fought in the war.
That complaint led to… nothing.
Which is why, yesterday, the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of three plaintiffs:
“To any passerby, a huge cross such as this can only be understood as endorsing Christianity,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Legal Director David Niose. “On public property, that violates the Establishment Clause. We can all support memorials to those who have fought for our country, but they cannot take the form of a massive religious symbol on government property.”
It’s not just about the presence of the cross. The taxpayer-funded Commission pays for electricity to keep the cross lit up every night. And even when three other war memorials were installed in the vicinity of the Peace Cross, they were not nearly as large or easily seen.
The plaintiffs include three secular activists who live near the cross and encounter it regularly, all of whom have a problem with the government endorsement of Christianity that it implies (which helps to establish standing in the case): Steven Lowe, Fred Edwords, and Bishop McNeill.
The AHA is asking the court for an “injunction enjoining the Defendant (and its successors) from displaying the Bladensburg Cross on public property or otherwise in violation of the Establishment Clause.”
In a post at The Humanist, AHLC attorney Monica Miller explains why the AHA is filing suit:
When the government erects an exclusively Christian monument on government property, it violates this central command of the Establishment Clause by sending a clear message that Christianity is the preferred religion over all others. When the religious monument is dedicated to fallen soldiers, it sends an even more egregious message that only Christian soldiers are worth memorializing. Non-Christian soldiers such as atheists and humanists are inherently excluded.
In seeking the removal of the Bladensburg cross, the American Humanist Association seeks only to eliminate this stigmatic message to non-adherents of Christianity. It urges the government to erect an inclusive monument that will honor all fallen soldiers, regardless of their faith.
I can’t attest to how strong the case is, but we’ll finally get an answer one way or another. There’s some hope the court will rule in the plaintiffs’ favor since, a couple of years ago, the San Diego-based Mount Soledad Cross was found to be unconstitutional (though the case is still being appealed).