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The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial

The American Legion is the largest veterans service organization in the nation. In 1925, a local post of The American Legion erected the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial to honor the selfless sacrifice of 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland who gave their lives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I.

At the base of the Memorial Cross is a bronze plaque listing the names of the 49 fallen heroes. On the plaque above the names, along with the dates 1917 and 1918, is the inscription “This Memorial Cross Dedicated To The Heroes of Prince George’s County Who Gave Their Lives In The Great War For The Liberty Of The World.”

On the plaque beneath the names is a quote from President Woodrow Wilson, which says, “The right is more precious than peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest to our hearts; to such a task we dedicate our lives.” Four words are inscribed on the base of the memorial above the plaque, one word on each side: Valor, Endurance, Courage, Devotion. A brightly colored image of The American Legion emblem is emblazoned on the memorial on both sides of the intersection of the cross shape.

The memorial sits in the immediate vicinity of several other veterans’ memorials, including monuments to those who served in the Battle of Bladensburg (War of 1812), World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Nearby, there is also a memorial of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and a memorial garden remembering those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

First Liberty Defends Memorial Against Lawsuit

Although the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial has stood for almost 90 years without any objections, the American Humanist Association and some of its members filed a lawsuit in February 2014, alleging that the public ownership, maintenance, and display of the memorial violated the Establishment Clause.

First Liberty filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of The American Legion. In September 2014, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted the motion, permitting the Legion to become a party in the lawsuit to defend the memorial.

On November 30, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial is constitutional. But on December 28, 2015, the American Humanist Association appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

On April 11, 2016, both Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate filed an amicus brief in support of the memorial. In the brief, the Congressional members argued that 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. The members contend that prohibiting the use of a cross to honor our veterans would exhibit hostility to religion that is contrary to the First Amendment. View the brief.

On December 7, 2016 oral arguments were held before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

First Liberty continues to represent The American Legion in defense of the memorial.

Why This Case Matters

The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial joins a growing list of veterans memorials across the country that have come under attack for including crosses and similar images or text. However, the cross shape has been used by the military as a secular symbol to honor military service for much of our nation’s history. For example, the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, cross-shaped memorials, and the countless crosses placed as headstones for fallen Americans are all used to honor our service members’ sacrifice.

“Throughout our nation’s history, the military has used the cross shape to honor military service and sacrifice,” Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute, says. “We stand to honor the selfless sacrifice of our fallen heroes and ask the Court to uphold the constitutionality of this historic memorial.”

If the Bladensburg Memorial must come down, then so too must the many veterans memorials across the country which bear similar images or text. This would require tearing down the Argonne Cross in Arlington Cemetery and sandblasting the word “God” from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release

Contact: Christine Tang, ctang@firstliberty.org
Cell: 469-562-9484, Direct: 469-440-7601

 

NATION’S LARGEST VETERANS SERVICE ORGANIZATION ASKS FEDERAL APPEALS COURT TO AFFIRM CONSTITUTIONALITY OF NINETY-YEAR-OLD VETERANS MEMORIAL

The American Legion asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to uphold constitutionality of the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial


RICHMOND, VA, December 7, 2016 – Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard the case regarding the constitutionality of the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial. On November 15, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the ninety-year-old veterans memorial was constitutional. After the American Humanist Association appealed the decision, The American Legion asked the Fourth Circuit to uphold the district court’s well-reasoned ruling. Read the brief

Law firms Jones Day and First Liberty Institute represent The American Legion, the largest veterans service organization in the country. A local American Legion post erected the monument 90 years ago in honor of 49 men of Prince George’s County, Md., who gave their lives during the First World War. The Legion is committed to defending the honor of the nation’s military veterans and the memorials that honor their service.

“Throughout our nation’s history, the military has used the cross shape to honor military service and sacrifice,” Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute, says. “We stand to honor the selfless sacrifice of our fallen heroes and ask the Court to uphold the constitutionality of this historic memorial.”

Both Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate filed an amicus brief in support of the memorial. In the brief, the Congressional members argued that 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. The members contend that prohibiting the use of a cross to honor our veterans would exhibit hostility to religion that is contrary to the First Amendment.

Background on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial

In 1925, a local post of The American Legion, the largest veterans service organization in the country with approximately 2.2 million members, erected the memorial to honor 49 Bladensburg-area men who gave their lives in World War I. The memorial stood for almost 90 years without objection until February 2014 when the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit. The association alleges that the cross-shaped memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and demands that the monument be demolished, altered, or removed. In November 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the memorial is constitutional. The American Humanist Association appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Read more about the case at FirstLiberty.org/Bladensburg

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Christine Tang, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute. Email: ctang@firstliberty.org, Direct: 469-440-7601, Cell: 469-562-9484.

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Download press release here.


Press Release – 04/05/16

Press Release – 11/30/15

Photo credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.