The US Supreme Court announced Monday that it will decide whether to reverse a lower court decision that could lead to the destruction of a World War I veterans memorial that is shaped in the form of a cross.
The memorial cross has stood since 1925 when it was dedicated to honor 49 Bladensburg, Maryland-area soldiers who were killed in action during the war. The memorial is located in Prince George's County, Maryland.
The Gold-Star mothers who designed the memorial in 1919, chose a cross shape to recall the cross-shaped grave markers standing over the countless American graves on the war's Western Front. One mother referred to the memorial as her son's "gravestone."
In 2015, the US District Court for the District of Maryland ruled the memorial was constitutional, citing the use of crosses to mark the graves of fallen American servicemen overseas. Later, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court's decision, declaring the cross shape of the memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
It said, "Displaying the Cross, particularly given its size, history, and context, amounts to excessive entanglement because the Commission (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) is displaying the hallmark symbol of Christianity in a manner that dominates its surroundings and not only overwhelms all other monuments at the park but also excludes all other religious tenets."
The court went on to say the "display and maintenance of the Cross violates the Establishment Clause."
Attorneys with First Liberty Institute and Jones Day are representing The American Legion in defense of the cross-shaped memorial. They say this ruling could threaten veterans memorials across the country.
"There are some who want to erase the memory of the service and sacrifice of these 49 fallen servicemen of Prince George's County," Kelly Shackelford, the president and CEO of First Liberty, said in a press release. "If this monument is bulldozed to the ground, it's only a matter of time before the wrecking ball turns on Arlington National Cemetery and the thousands of memorials like this one across the country."
In 2014, the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit, claiming the memorial is unconstitutional. It wanted the cross to be destroyed or changed, possibly by taking off its arms "to form a non-religious slab or obelisk," according to The Washington Times.