Bladensburg | Cases | First Liberty

Kevin Bartlett, National Judge Advocate of The American Legion, and Kelly Shackelford, President of First Liberty, discuss the importance of saving the memorial following the February 27, 2019 oral argument at the Supreme Court.


BREAKING NEWS: Supreme Court Upholds Memorial!

On June 20, 2019, in a 7-2 decision, the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States preserved the nearly 100-year old Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, along with memorials like it bearing religious symbols across the country.  Most importantly, in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the Justices reaffirmed that the First Amendment allows people to use religious symbols and images in public.

“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom.  The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel to First Liberty. “Our Founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history, and symbols. The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”

Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion, partner at Jones Day and First Liberty network attorney, said, “We are grateful for this historic victory for the First Amendment.  This decision simply affirms the historical understanding of the First Amendment that allows government to acknowledge the value and importance of religion.”

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 Hears Case

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.

In February 2019, the Court heard oral argument in the case. Michael Carvin of Jones Day presented the case on behalf of The American Legion and First Liberty.

News Release
For Immediate Release: 6.20.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

U.S. Supreme Court: WAR ON VETERANS MEMORIALS IS OVER
High Court ends efforts by activists to cleanse public of displays of faith, including Maryland “Peace Cross” 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, in a 7-2 decision, the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States preserved the nearly 100-year old Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial, along with memorials like it bearing religious symbols across the country.  Most importantly, in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the Justices reaffirmed that the First Amendment allows people to use religious symbols and images in public.  First Liberty Institute and the international law firm Jones Day represent The American Legion.

A copy of the opinion can be read here.

“This is a landmark victory for religious freedom.  The days of illegitimately weaponizing the Establishment Clause and attacking religious symbols in public are over,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel to First Liberty. “Our Founders would have been appalled at this attempt to make the government hostile to our religious heritage, history, and symbols. The attempted perversion of our Constitution is now over, and every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.”

Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion, partner at Jones Day and First Liberty network attorney, said, “We are grateful for this historic victory for the First Amendment.  This decision simply affirms the historical understanding of the First Amendment that allows government to acknowledge the value and importance of religion.”

Brett Reistad, National Commander of The American Legion, said, “The American Legion is proud to have defended the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial.  Since our founding, the Legion has been committed to defending the memorials of our fallen comrades because we know the price of freedom.  To my fellow veterans: mission accomplished!”

“The Supreme Court’s decision to protect the Peace Cross sends a clear message to all Americans: religious symbols and religious activity in public contribute to the diversity of this nation and must be protected,” said Christopher DiPompeo, co-counsel with First Liberty and partner at Jones Day.

Named for the 1971 case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, the “Lemon test” asks a number of subjective questions that activists have routinely used to decry “separation of church and state” while demanding anything religious be hidden from public view—even if that means tearing down memorials and monuments that have stood for a century.  In its place, the Court returned to a commonsense reading of the Establishment Clause that guards against the establishment of an official religion, while permitting the public acknowledgment of religion in public.

To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/BladensburgMemorial.

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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 – 2/14/19

First Liberty Press Release – 1/3/19

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

6/20/19 – Decision by U.S. Supreme Court

2/13/19 – Supreme Court Final Brief

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.

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.

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Every American now has more freedom than they have had in decades, with a government no longer hostile to people or expressions of faith.