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.

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Appeal

In November 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it accepted the appeal of The American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association et al. The American Legion is asking the Justices to reverse the Fourth Circuit’s decision jeopardizing the Bladensburg memorial.

In its merits brief to the Supreme Court, attorneys with First Liberty and Jones Day argue that the nearly 100-year-old memorial is constitutional. Moreover, the brief suggests that the so-called “Lemon” or “endorsement” test ought to be abandoned and replaced with a more historically-grounded test that protects religious liberty by preventing the suppression and compulsion of religious exercise.

“When our brothers at The American Legion erected this memorial in 1925, it was to prevent all of us from forgetting something we cannot see: the service and sacrifice of those who died defending freedom,” Brett Reistad, the National Commander of The American Legion said. “This memorial is a fixed reminder of 49 men who gave everything to preserve our freedom.”

“The Supreme Court should honor the way Gold-Star mothers chose to remember the service and sacrifice of their sons who died defending our freedom,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. “If this gravestone is bulldozed to the ground, it’s only a matter of time before the wrecking ball turns on Arlington National Cemetery and the hundreds of memorials like this one across the country.”

Learn more and sign our petition to show your support for preserving the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial at DontTearMeDown.com.

News Release
For Immediate Release: 1/3/19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

(Burial card for Private John Henry Seaburn, Jr., honored by the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial.  Photo may be used with credit to, “First Liberty Institute” or “FirstLiberty.org”)

Descendants of Bladensburg WWI Dead Named on Peace Cross Among 38 Briefs Asking U.S. Supreme Court to Save Memorial

Family members of fallen soldiers honored at Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial file brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in support of historic “gravestone”

Washington, DC–Just before Christmas family members of fallen soldiers named on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans memorial filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief urging the Supreme Court of the United States to save the memorial from bulldozing.  First Liberty Institute along with the law firm Jones Day represent The American Legion in The American Legion, et al. v. American Humanist Association, et al., defending the nearly 90-year-old memorial.  An extraordinary number of organizations and individuals also filed briefs in support of maintaining the memorial, including:

  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars and National WWI Museum and Memorial
  • Medal of Honor Recipients
  • Military Order of the Purple Heart
  • Retired military Generals and Admirals
  • Major General Patrick Brady and Veterans Groups Erecting and Maintaining War Memorials
  • 84 Republican and Democratic Members of Congress
  • 30 State Attorneys General
  • Maryland Attorney General
  • Maryland Elected Officials
  • Town of Taos, New Mexico
  • International Municipal Lawyers Association and National Association of Counties
  • The Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team of the Religious Freedom Institute
  • The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty

“No one understands why we need to preserve the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial more than the family members whose loved ones are honored there,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO and Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “For nearly 100 years the families of these 49 sons of Prince George’s County have considered the Bladensburg Veterans Memorial their sons’ gravestone. We cannot allow their memory to be bulldozed.”

In the brief, attorneys for descendants of those honored at Bladensburg argue, “Because these soldiers died too young to leave children of their own, amici, their nieces and nephew, seek to preserve their legacies. To that end, amici desire that the Peace Cross be allowed to stand, safeguarding the memory of their family members’ service across generations. Amici would experience pain, distress, and betrayal if the very government for which their family members fought destroys or disfigures the monument that honors their families’ sacrifices.”

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.

Oral arguments in the case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on February 27, 2019.

To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/Bladensburg.

Links to all the briefs are available here.

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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.


First Liberty Press Release – 12/17/18

First Liberty Press Release – 11/2/18

First Liberty Press Release – 06/25/18

First Liberty Press Release – 03/01/18

First Liberty Press Release – 10/18/17

First Liberty Press Release – 12/07/16

First Liberty Press Release – 04/05/16

First Liberty Press Release – 11/30/15

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Maryland Officials and Prince George’s County

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Military Order of the Purple Heart

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by CatholicVote.org Education Fund

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Religious Denominations and Institutions

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by the United States

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Veterans in Defense of Liberty

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Various Professors

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Professors Dellinger and Lederman

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by The Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Lieutenant Colonel Kamal S. Kalsi

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by The American Civil Rights Union

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by 84 Members of Congress

12/26/18 – Amicus Brief by Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty

12/24/18 – Amicus Brief by The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty

12/24/18 – Amicus Brief by Cato Institute

12/24/18 – Amicus Brief by 30 Attorneys General

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Liberty Counsel

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by The Rutherford Institute

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Veterans of Foreign Wars

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by American Center for Law and Justice

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Major General Patrick Brady and Others

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by National Association of Counties and Others

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Judicial Watch

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Public Advocate of the United States

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Family Members of Soldiers Named on Peace Cross

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Citizens United and Citizens United Foundation

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Utah Highway Patrol Association

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Retired Generals and Flag Officers

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Medal of Honor Recipients

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by Family Research Council

12/21/18 – Amicus Brief by The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs

12/20/18 – Amicus Brief by the State of Maryland

12/20/18 – Amicus Brief by Foundation for Moral Law

12/20/18 – Amicus Brief by Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty

12/19/18 – Amicus Brief by Town of Taos, New Mexico

12/19/18 – Amicus Brief by Thomas More Law Center

12/19/18 – Amicus Brief by Justice and Freedom Fund

12/18/18 – Amicus Brief by American Association of Christian Schools

12/17/18 – American Legion Brief to the U.S. Supreme Court

11/2/18 – U.S. Supreme Court Cert Grant

7/18 – Amicus Briefs in Support of Cert

06/25/18 – Petition to the United States Supreme Court

06/25/18 – Appendix: Petition to the U.S. Supreme Court

03/01/18 – Order Denying En Banc Petition to Fourth Circuit

11/01/17 – En Banc Petition to Fourth Circuit

10/18/17 – Court Opinion U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit

04/11/16 – Amicus Brief by 25 States

04/11/16 – Amicus Brief by Senator Manchin and Representatives

04/04/16 – Labeled Overhead View of Veterans Memorial Park

04/04/16 – Appellate Brief

11/30/15 – Court Opinion by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

11/30/15 – Court Order by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

06/10/15 – Motion for Summary Judgment

06/10/15 – Memo for Motion

 

 

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.