PUSHING BACK: Liberty Institute Responds to Humanists’ Attempt to Destroy WWI Veterans Memorial

June 18, 2015

First Liberty Institute and Jones Day file motion for summary judgment on behalf of The American Legion to defend historic cross-shaped WWI veterans memorial 

The Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial honors
49 fallen World War I service men from Prince George’s County, Maryland.

This week, First Liberty Institute and Jones Day, on behalf of The American Legion, filed a motion for summary judgment
  defending the historic Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the motion is a response and cross-motion to last month’s attempt by the American Humanist Association (AHA) to have the memorial, which was erected by The American Legion in 1925, demolished, removed, or altered because it is in the shape of a cross.

“This monument was erected to honor the sons of Prince George’s County, Maryland who fell in the First World War. To see a group of humanists fight to demolish it, simply because they are offended by the memorial’s shape, is a disgrace,” said Jeff Mateer, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “We hope the court will uphold the right to honor the County’s sons with this memorial and allow it to continue to stand in memory of the Bladensburg heroes.”

First Liberty Institute and Jones Day represent The American Legion, The American Legion Department of Maryland, and The American Legion Post 131 of Colmar Manor, Maryland, in this matter.  


Last month, as part of their lawsuit challenging the historic Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial, the American Humanist Association filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the Court, among other things, to order that the government remove the memorial from the property, completely demolish the memorial, or remove the “arms” of the memorial to make it a “non-religious slab or obelisk.”

In response, the motion filed by First Liberty Institute and Jones Day asks the Court to uphold the constitutionality of the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial and rule against the humanist group’s lawsuit  Among the arguments in our motion:

  • An abundance of legal precedent supports the use of a cross shape as a proper memorial on government property.
  • Removing or altering this memorial would demonstrate the very hostility toward religion prohibited by the First Amendment
  • Tests used by the federal courts to uphold the First Amendment show that the Bladensburg Memorial is well within the requirements of the Constitution.

Two precedents cited include Van Orden v. Perry and Salazar v. Buono, cases in which First Liberty Institute participated.  In Van Orden, the Supreme Court found that a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds was constitutional.  In Salazar, the Court upheld the transfer to private ownership of the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial (like Bladensburg, in the shape of a cross) and a plurality of the Court explained that a WWI memorial in the shape of a cross raises no constitutional concerns.


According to an article by Richard Wilson published in Prince George’s Magazinein 1983, the Memorial Committee formed to raise money for the Memorial included ten mothers who had lost sons in the war. In 1920, Mrs. Martin Redman, the mother of the first sailor from the county to lose his life in World War I, became the treasurer for the committee. In a letter to Senator John Walter Smith, who had donated money for the cause, Mrs. Redman wrote:

“The chief reason I feel so deeply in this matter, my son, [W.]F. Redman, lost his life in France and because of that I feel that our memorial cross is, in a way, his grave stone.”

By 1922, a local post of The American Legion took charge of the effort, and the Memorial was erected in 1925. It bears the names of 49 fallen servicemen from Prince George’s County, other commemorative words and dates, and a quote from President Woodrow Wilson:

“The right is more precious than peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest our hearts; to such a task we dedicate our lives.”

The seal of The American Legion is prominently emblazoned on the two primary faces of the monument at the intersection of the cross arms, and the only other words inscribed on the memorial are “VALOR; ENDURANCE; COURAGE; DEVOTION” with one on each of the four sides of the monument.

Today, the Memorial sits in a public area amidst several other memorials commemorating other conflicts in American history and honoring those who served in them.


The Bladensburg, Maryland World War I Veterans Memorial case—or the similar Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial matter (also a First Liberty Institute case)—could set precedent that either protects veterans memorials that use religious text or imagery or exposes them to further attack. Kelly Shackelford, First Liberty Institute President and CEO, discusses this in his recent e-book, A Time to Stand 2015: Why Saving Religious Freedom Depends on What People of Faith Do Next. (Click here to download your FREE copy of A Time to Stand 2015 here.) Memorials affected by the outcomes of these cases could include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the cross-shaped memorials at Arlington National Cemetery.

With a win rate of over 90%, First Liberty Institute is committed to protect veterans memorials that honor the sacrifice and courage of America’s veterans and defend against attempts to scrub America of its religious heritage.

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

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