First Liberty General Counsel Hiram Sasser reacts to the Fourth Circuit’s denial of an En Banc rehearing in the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial Case.
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 Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, also known as “Peace Cross,” to honor 49 Bladensburg-area men who gave their lives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in WWI. The memorial stood for almost 90 years without objection until the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit in February 2014 alleging the cross-shaped memorial is unconstitutional and demanding it be demolished, altered, or removed.
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.”
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 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. 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.
The United States District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial is constitutional. But in December 2015, the American Humanist Association appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
When the Court issued its decision against the memorial, First Liberty continued to fight to preserve the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial. On behalf of the American Legion, First Liberty and volunteer firm Jones Day filed a petition for a rehearing en banc with the Fourth Circuit. If granted, all active Fourth Circuit judges would have heard and issued a decision in this extraordinary case. The Fourth Circuit denied the en banc petition, which leaves one final option.
“The decision of the three-judge panel sets dangerous precedent for veterans memorials and cemeteries across America, and we cannot allow it to be the final word,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “If this decision stands, other memorials—including those in nearby Arlington Cemetery—will be targeted for destruction as well. The American Legion will appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“Memorials are living reminders of our country’s history and the cost of war,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. “How will we remember the fallen or teach the next generation about service and sacrifice if we start bulldozing veterans memorials and cemeteries across America? We will continue our work to overturn this decision and defend the memory of those who preserved our freedom.”
Learn more and sign our petition to show your support for preserving the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial at DontTearMeDown.com.
For Immediate Release: March 1, 2018
Contact: Lacey McNiel, email@example.com
First Liberty attorney says The American Legion will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
RICHMOND, Va.—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today denied an en banc rehearing in the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial case. First Liberty Institute and Jones Day filed a petition for an en banc rehearing November 1, 2017 asking that all active Fourth Circuit judges hear and issue a decision in the case. Today’s announcement comes after an October decision by a three-judge Fourth Circuit panel declaring the historic cross-shaped memorial unconstitutional.
“The decision of the three-judge panel sets a dangerous precedent for veterans memorials and cemeteries across America, and we cannot allow it to be the final word,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty. “If this decision stands, other memorials—including those in nearby Arlington Cemetery—will be targeted for destruction as well. The American Legion will appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Chief Judge Gregory criticized the denial of en banc review, writing in his dissenting opinion:
Nearly a century ago, Maryland citizens, out of deep respect and gratitude, took on the daunting task of erecting a monument to mirror the measure of individual devotion and sacrifice these heroes had so nobly advanced. The panel majority says their effort violates the Constitution the soldiers fought to defend. I, respectfully, think otherwise.
In his dissent, Judge Wilkinson observed:
The dead cannot speak for themselves. But may the living hear their silence. We should take care not to traverse too casually the line that separates us from our ancestors and that will soon enough separate us from our descendants. The present has many good ways of imprinting its values and sensibilities upon society. But to roil needlessly the dead with the controversies of the living does not pay their deeds or their time respect.
Judge Niemeyer, writing in his dissenting opinion, explained:
The holding not only violates Van Orden, it also needlessly puts at risk hundreds of monuments with similar symbols standing on public grounds across the country, such as those in nearby Arlington National Cemetery, where crosses of comparable size stand in commemoration of fallen soldiers.
The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial is a cross-shaped memorial erected by The American Legion in 1925 in honor of 49 Bladensburg-area men who gave their lives while serving in WWI.
To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/Bladensburg.
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 972-941-4453.
To download this press release, please click here.
Photo/Video credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.
Dear Coach Kennedy,
I would like to say thank you. Your dedication to your faith and your commitment to the positive education of our youth is truly admirable. I am deeply grateful for your military service and for taking a courageous stance in protecting religious liberty rights for teachers and administrators.
If our First Amendment protects a player’s right to kneel in protest, it certainly protects your right to kneel in prayer.
I was shocked to learn that Bremerton High School suspended you after denying your request to continue your wholesome practice of giving thanks after football games.
The Bremerton School District’s actions violate the law and send the wrong message to coaches, young people, our communities, and our nation — a message of hostility to religious freedom and intolerance toward personal religious expression.
Please know that you are not alone in this difficult time — I support you and First Liberty as you continue to fight for religious freedom! Our schools need more coaches like you, our country needs more citizens like you, and our world needs more people like you.✖