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.
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.
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.
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.
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. A decision by the Justices is expected in June.
“One hundred years ago, mothers who lost their sons in World War I chose to design a memorial resembling their sons’ gravestones – the Peace Cross. Tearing down this WWI Veterans Memorial would be a disgrace. We are hopeful the Court will not only end the attacks on this memorial, but will clarify the law and put an end to the attacks on memorials nationwide.” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO, and Chief Counsel to First Liberty.
For Immediate Release: 2/14/19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, firstname.lastname@example.org
First Liberty Institute Files Final Brief on Behalf of The American Legion and the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial at SCOTUS
Oral arguments in term’s highest profile First Amendment case set for February 27
Washington, DC— Wednesday—just two weeks prior to oral argument—attorneys with First Liberty Institute and Jones Day, jointly representing The American Legion, filed their final brief before the Supreme Court of the United States in The American Legion, et al. v. American Humanist Association, et al. Arguments in the case are scheduled for February 27.
A copy of the brief can be found here.
“The Supreme Court is the last hope for preserving the 90-year-old Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, Chief Counsel, and CEO of First Liberty. “We are eager to present oral argument to the Court in less than two weeks explaining why the law must honor the way mothers chose to remember the service and sacrifice of the sons they lost in the defense of freedom during World War I.”
In addition to the legal arguments filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, First Liberty released the results of a nationwide poll conducted by pollster George Barna of Metaformation, Inc. In a nationally representative survey of 1,000 adults, 84% respondents indicated that the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial should be allowed to stand. Merely 2% of the country support its demolition.
A copy of the poll can be found here.
The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial is a cross-shaped veterans memorial erected in 1925 by The American Legion to honor 49 Prince George’s County men who gave their lives while serving in WWI. Mothers who lost their sons in World War I designed the memorial in 1919 to recall the cross-shaped grave markers standing over the countless American graves on the Western Front of that war. In 2014, atheists filed a lawsuit claiming the memorial’s design violates the First Amendment, is “offensive,” and should be altered, moved, or destroyed.
To learn more, visit FirstLiberty.org/Bladensburg.
Advisory to Working Media: Following oral arguments on February 27, attorneys with First Liberty Institute, Jones Day, along with members of The American Legion, will host a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States. Attorneys with First Liberty Institute are available for interviews prior to argument. To schedule an interview, please contact Lacey McNiel at email@example.com or by calling 972-941-4453.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 972-941-4453.
To download this press release, please click here.
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.