An Ugly National Purge? Protecting America’s Veterans Memorials from Destruction

A determined and courageous battle cry to keep veterans memorials standing tall, “Don’t Tear Me Down!”

January 12, 2018

Are radical groups trying to erase the legacy of brave Americans who have served in the military?

Americans go to great lengths to honor the fallen heroes who fought to defend freedom. In recent years, however, anti-religion extremists have targeted veterans and war memorials across the country, fixated on altering or destroying any monument to fallen service members that includes even a semblance of religiosity.

Presently, First Liberty Institute is fighting to preserve the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial commemorating service members from Prince George’s County in Maryland. After four arduous years of litigation, the Bladensburg case is pending with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and it could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bladensburg is only one case in a growing list of veterans memorials that have come under attack for including religious imagery or texts. Cross-shaped veterans memorials were common and customary during both world wars and are styled after the grave markers common to the American service members buried throughout Europe during the wars. Surveys show that more than 150 memorials similar to the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial exist on public land across America’s mainland.

Why is the Bladensburg case so important? A courtroom victory for the opposition could be the domino that topples hundreds – if not all – veterans memorials with religious imagery.


Imagine the words “KNOWN BUT TO GOD” being erased off the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Imagine a day when not a single cross-shaped monument would be visible in Arlington, the nation’s most revered grounds. Would this historic site ever be the same?

Opponents of religion have made their position very clear when it comes to veterans memorials. The American Humanist Association (AHA) publicly wrote that their ultimate goal is to completely remove the Bladensburg Memorial. Late last year, AHA convinced the Fourth Circuit – just one step below the U.S. Supreme Court – that the historic structure is unconstitutional.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision puts the Bladensburg Memorial in grave danger of being torn down. The Fourth Circuit’s jurisdiction covers Virginia, where Arlington National Cemetery is located, putting other famous monuments in the crosshairs.

Only a short drive from Bladensburg, Arlington includes the marble, cross-shaped Argonne Memorial dedicated to those who died fighting in the Argonne Forest in WWI and the granite Canadian Cross of Sacrifice dedicated to Americans who fought for Canada before America entered WWII.

The future of these monuments could be in question. The precedent set by this high federal court would allow radical groups to go on a regional – and likely a national – purge of veterans monuments.


Millions of service members have paid the ultimate price for freedom. Contemplating their sacrifice, it is deeply alarming when extremist groups persuade courts that memorials are illegal.

What do these groups propose? The complete removal of memorials like these is one demand. Another is alteration. For example, during oral arguments over the Bladensburg Memorial, a lawyer for the American Humanist Association and a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit discussed removing the arms of the memorial!

Attorney for American Humanist Association: “Well, to be clear, it’s far more acceptable to us that it be actually physically removed . . .”

Judge on Court Panel (a few seconds later): “Or, take the arms off.”

Judge on Court Panel (a few minutes later): “What about . . . my suggestion of chopping the arms off?”

This is a stunning proposal. Could America soon look like this?

Defiling these reverent structures – or worse, tearing them down – would be like spitting on the graves of courageous service members and their families.

The American government also operates the Normandy American World War II Cemetery in Normandy, France, the final resting place of 9,387 dead from D-Day and other battles. Most of the headstones are cross-shaped or Stars of David.

In 2014, an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation stated the following:

“It is unfortunate that the iconic headstones of the Normandy cemetery do such a poor job of representing the diversity of today’s military.”

FFRF’s statement ignores the fact that a cross shape was (and is) an internationally recognized symbol of a fallen service member.  They allege veterans memorials should exclude such time-honored symbols.  Sadly, that not only would rewrite many generations of American military tradition but would dishonor both the fallen and those who erected the memorials to honor them.


First Liberty attorneys and other legal scholars predict that court-sanctioned alterations of veterans memorials could be the beginning of a slippery slope leading to their demolition, destruction, and removal. Would America be the same without veterans memorials?

The battle for Bladensburg – and hundreds of other veterans memorials – is far from over. Expecting that 2018 will likely bring some critical judicial rulings, First Liberty will show its resolve to save this historic memorial. As the opposition clamors to mow down memorials like bowling pins, defenders of freedom will make their rallying cry, “Don’t Tear Me Down!”

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