Bladensburg | Cases | First Liberty

First Liberty Counsel Chelsey Youman shares the story of Martha Redman, a Gold Star Mother whose love and devotion to her son made her a driving force in building the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial.


Brief History of 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 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.

First Liberty Defends Memorial Against Lawsuit

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.

Both Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate filed an amicus brief in support of the memorial. View the brief.

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.

First Liberty to Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to Preserve Historic WWI Veterans Memorial

“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.

Press Release
For Immediate Release: June 26, 2018
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Attorneys for The American Legion Turn to Supreme Court as the Last Hope for Preserving 90-Year-Old Veterans Memorial

Petition asks Court to reverse Fourth Circuit’s decision that would tear down the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, attorneys for First Liberty Institute and Jones Day filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of The American Legion, asking the nine Justices to reverse a lower court decision that could lead to the bulldozing of the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

A copy of the petition can be found here.

“The Supreme Court is the last hope for preserving the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. “For nearly 100 years the community and families of the 49 fallen sons of Prince George’s County listed on the memorial’s plaque have considered the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial their sons’ gravestone. We cannot allow their memory to be bulldozed.”

The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial is a cross-shaped memorial erected in 1925 by local Gold-Star mothers and a local post of The American Legion to honor 49 Prince George’s County men who gave their lives while serving in WWI. The memorial was built in a cross shape to recall the cross-shaped grave markers standing over the countless American graves on the Western Front of that war.

Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion, partner at Jones Day and First Liberty network attorney, said, “We hope the Supreme Court will reverse the Fourth Circuit’s decision. Americans should honor the way these Gold-Star mothers and The American Legion chose to remember their sons and comrades, and honor the service and sacrifice of these 49 fallen servicemen of Prince George’s County.”

In 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled the memorial was constitutional, citing the use of crosses to mark the graves of fallen American servicemen overseas. Later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision, declaring the cross shape of the memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/Bladensburg.

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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 media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

To download this press release, please click here.


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Photo/Video credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.

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To The American Legion:

As a grateful citizen, I support your effort to honor those who have fallen in battle and to keep the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial standing as a visible reminder of valor, sacrifice, endurance, and devotion.

Veterans memorials like the one in Bladensburg, MD are symbols reminding us of the sacrifice of our service members and the cost of war. Tearing down the Bladensburg Memorial would erase the memory of the 49 fallen heroes of Prince George’s County—like they never even existed.

We cannot allow the Bladensburg Memorial to be bulldozed.

Please know that you have my support and backing in your petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.