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Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty, appearing with Shannon Bream on Fox News discussing the Bladensburg Veterans War 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. 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. View the brief.

On December 7, 2016, oral arguments were held before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. On October 18, 2017, the Court issued its decision against the memorial.

First Liberty continues to fight to preserve the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial and the legacy of the WWI veterans from Prince George’s County who sacrificed their lives for our nation’s freedom. On November 1, 2017, The American Legion filed a petition for a rehearing en banc with the Fourth Circuit. If granted, all active Fourth Circuit judges could hear and issue a decision in this extraordinary case.

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. If this veterans memorial must come down, then so too might 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.

“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.”

 

Press Release
For Immediate Release: November 1, 2017
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

bladensburg crossBladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, Bladensburg, Md.

Photo credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.
Access full resolution photos at
FirstLiberty.org/Bladensburg under “Photos and Videos.”

Attorneys for The American Legion Petition for En Banc Rehearing in Bladensburg Veterans Memorial Case

Petition for rehearing en banc filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit


RICHMOND, Va.—In light of last month’s decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declaring the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial unconstitutional, First Liberty Institute and Jones Day have filed a petition for a rehearing en banc on behalf of The American Legion.

The following statement can be attributed to Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute:

Memorials are living reminders of our country’s history and the cost of war. 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.

The following statement can be attributed to Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion and partner at Jones Day:

This is a case of exceptional importance that threatens memorials nationwide. We are hopeful the Fourth Circuit will recognize the significance of this case and the necessity of en banc review.

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.


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

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