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Ruling threatens Md. ‘Peace Cross’ and other veterans memorials

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January 2, 2019

By: Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO and Chief Counsel for First Liberty Institute

As many gathered around a Christmas tree last week, attorneys representing thousands of Americans were busy putting the finishing touches on friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial.

The “Peace Cross,” as local residents call it, is a simple cross-shaped memorial of concrete and bronze, sitting in the median of a highway in Bladensburg, Md. In 1919, mothers who lost their sons in World War I designed the memorial, which The American Legion then built, dedicating it in 1925. The mothers of 49 men from Prince George’s County chose the shape of a cross as the memorial, recalling the gravestones erected over their sons on European battlefields.

But after nearly 100 years, that memorial to heroes of the Great War is threatened: A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declared last year in a 2 to 1 decision that it is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. If their decision stands, the Peace Cross likely will have to fall.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal made by The American Legion, whom we at First Liberty Institute, along with Jones Day, represent. We argue that this veterans memorial is not only constitutional, but that the primary test the court devised in 1971 to evaluate veterans memorials like it is no longer viable.

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