Humanists Will Appeal Ruling That Says Giant Cross Monument Does Not Promote Christianity

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 the 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 nowhere. So the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a lawsuit in 2014 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.

Unfortunately, a District Judge felt the Cross wasn’t an endorsement of religion, ruling against the AHA:

The Monument’s secular commemorative purpose is reinforced by the plaque, the American Legion’s seal, and the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage,” and “devotion” written on it. None of these features contains any religious reference. In short, the record amply demonstrates that the construction and maintenance of the Monument “was not an attempt to set the imprimatur of the state on a particular creed. Rather, those who erected the cross intended simply to honor our Nation’s fallen soldiers.

So a judge said a giant cross was somehow religiously neutral. It made no sense a month ago and it makes no sense now. If a cross isn’t Christian, than what is? Just because you put secular words around it doesn’t change the overall message.

For that reason, the AHA has decided to file an appeal in the case.

“The Bladensburg Cross is an enormous Christian symbol on government property and has the clear effect of endorsing religion,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “We will continue defending the First Amendment rights of our clients as well as all non-Christian service members who are excluded from the government’s Latin cross monument.”

“Instead of promoting Christianity, government war memorials should recognize and honor all veterans, including those of minority faiths and of no faith,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

You can read the brief motion to appeal here. Maybe common sense will get a better hearing at that level.

(Large portions of this article were published earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.