The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial in Maryland just outside Washington D.C. went up to honor the 49 men from the area lost in that war, their bodies buried near faraway battlefields. It’s in the shape of a big cross because crosses mark most graves of the war’s fallen across Europe. It’s not about religion, but recalling actual graves.
Still, some say Bladensburg’s Peace Cross as it’s now called has to come down because it violates the so-called separation of church and state. That begs the question: what about other crosses at government-run locations?
Case Could Imperil Many Crosses Nationwide
When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District ruled against the Peace Cross a while back, dissenting judge Paul Niemeyer warned that ruling, “…puts at risk hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of similar monuments,” including “similarly sized monuments incorporating crosses in the Arlington National Cemetery.”
So after the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case -- The American Legion, et al. v. American Humanist Association, et al. -- February 27, its ruling could have huge implications.
Lawyer Jeremy Dys with the First Liberty Institute told CBN News, “If this memorial is able to be destroyed, that means that bulldozer is going to turn from Bladensburg and roll across the Potomac River over to Arlington National Cemetery, where it will start knocking down the Argonne Cross, the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, and may even make its way down to Teddy and Bobby Kennedy’s graves, which themselves have grave markers in the shape of a cross.”
And that could happen across the country.
Has Government Used the Cross to Coerce Anyone?
First Liberty Institute is part of the legal team fighting for the cross to stay. That team insists the Peace Cross doesn’t go against the First Amendment, saying in its brief to the Supreme Court, the cross “…does not violate the Establishment Clause because it does not coerce belief in, observance of, or financial support for religion…”
This question of coercion could be the key issue of this case, because the writers of the First Amendment didn’t seem as much worried about government and religion touching, but of government trying to force religion on people or favoring one denomination over all others.
As Dys put it, “The Founding Fathers had something else totally in mind, that unless something is coercing someone into religious belief or physically creating an actual church, establishing a church that you have to worship at, that’s not an establishment of religion.”
It Took Just One Atheist Complaining
Is the Peace Cross even used for religious purposes? Cross-defenders argue in their brief to the high court, “In the near-century it has stood, the community has used the Peace Cross as a site for hundreds of events honoring veterans. By contrast, the record mentions only a single religious event that (may have) occurred at the Peace Cross, and that was in 1931 by an out-of-town preacher.”
But just one complaint has now led to this moment deciding if the cross stands or falls.
Dys explained, “In 2014 some atheist decided to sue the state of Maryland because they think it violates the Constitution to have it there. And they – and I’m quoting from their brief – they found it ‘offensive’ to even drive by it.”
If those who’ve demanded the Peace Cross come down think this is something most Americans want, they have another think coming. A new Barna poll out this week shows 84 percent of those surveyed want it to stay put. Just two percent want it demolished.