UPDATES DONATE

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.

Why This Case Matters

“Today’s decision sets dangerous precedent by completely ignoring history, and it threatens removal and destruction of veterans memorials across America,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty.

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 the Bladensburg Memorial must come down, then so too must 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

“The American Legion’s commitment to preserving the Bladensburg Memorial has been unwavering,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. “Their determination is appropriately illustrated by President Woodrow Wilson’s words engraved at the memorial’s base: ‘The right is more precious than the peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest to our hearts; to such a task we dedicate ourselves.’ We are exploring all of our options on behalf of the American Legion, including an appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

 

Press Release
For Immediate Release: October 18, 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.”)

Fourth Circuit Orders Removal of 90-Year-Old Veterans Memorial

Decision threatens the removal and destruction of memorials across America. 


 RICHMOND, Va.—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today declared unconstitutional the historic cross-shaped Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, which has stood since 1925 in honor of 49 Bladensburg-area men who gave their lives during WWI. Law firms of Jones Day and First Liberty Institute represent the American Legion.

“Today’s decision sets dangerous precedent by completely ignoring history, and it threatens removal and destruction of veterans memorials across America,” said Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel for First Liberty.

Eight Republican and Democratic members of Congress filed a joint amicus brief with the Fourth Circuit in support of the memorial.

“This memorial has stood in honor of local veterans for almost 100 years and is lawful under the First Amendment,” Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion and Partner at Jones Day, says. “To remove it would be a tremendous dishonor to the local men who gave their lives during The Great War.”

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided the 90-year old war memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Writing separately, Chief Judge Gregory wrote, “This Memorial stands in witness to the VALOR, ENDURANCE, COURAGE, and DEVOTION of the forty-nine residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland ‘who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world.’ I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”

“The American Legion’s commitment to preserving the Bladensburg Memorial has been unwavering,” said Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty. “Their determination is appropriately illustrated by President Woodrow Wilson’s words engraved at the memorial’s base: ‘The right is more precious than the peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest to our hearts; to such a task we dedicate ourselves.’ We are exploring all of our options on behalf of the American Legion, including an appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Brief History of the Bladensburg WWI 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.

In November 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled the memorial is constitutional, citing the use of the cross as a military symbol of courage, sacrifice, and remembrance. On December 7, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard the case on appeal from the American Humanist Association.

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

To download this press release, please click here.


First Liberty Press Release – 12/07/16

First Liberty Press Release – 04/05/16

First Liberty Press Release – 11/30/15

Photo credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.