February 26, 2019
ANN ARBOR, MI – On Wednesday, February 27, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether to reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decision which ordered the removal or disfigurement of a 40-foot tall cross erected in 1925 to memorialize the World War I service and death of forty-nine soldiers from Prince George County, Maryland.
The “Peace Cross of Bladensburg” located at the entrance to the town of Bladensburg, Maryland sits on a rectangular base which includes the words “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion.” A bronze plaque lists the names of the forty-nine fallen sons of Bladensburg. Above the names is the inscription: “This Memorial Cross Dedicated To The Heroes of Prince George’s County Maryland Who Lost Their Lives In The Great War For The Liberty Of The World.”
The Fourth Circuit ruled that the cross is the “preeminent symbol of Christianity,” and that while the cross may generally serve as a symbol of death and memorialization, it only holds that value because of its affiliation with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and thus violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The Thomas More Law Center (“TMLC”), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, engaged in the heated culture war battle over the meaning of the Establishment Clause, by filing an amicus brief (friend of the court brief) to save the Cross. The stakes are high. Crosses throughout the nation, including those in the Arlington National Cemetery, will be in jeopardy should the Supreme Court affirm the lower court decision.
This is the second amicus brief filed by TMLC. The first brief, filed in July 2018, asked the Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s ruling against the cross. Once the Supreme Court agreed to review the ruling, this second brief, filed on December 19, 2018, asks the Supreme Court to reverse the Fourth Circuit’s decision.
The federal lawsuit challenging the “peace cross” was brought in 2014 by three atheists who occasionally drove past the cross and claimed they were offended. TMLC’s brief authored by Erin Kuenzig addresses their claim by arguing,
“Allowing a historic war memorial to be destroyed to quell some momentary discomfort plaintiffs feel when they drive past the Bladensburg monument would do real and lasting harm to this country; it would send a message of disrespect to our fallen soldiers and their families, and it would deprive future generations of a treasured piece of history.”
TMLC’s brief also claims that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision shows a hostility toward religion, particularly Christianity, not intended by the Constitution.
Moreover, TMLC’s brief importantly points out,
“We cannot change the stories of the dead to appease the all too easily offended living. Any harm respondents feel they incur due to seeing the shape of a cross when they happen to drive past the Bladensburg memorial, pales in comparison to the real and lasting harm that destroying such memorials will cause to this country as a whole, to veterans’ families, and to the memories of the men and women who are honored by them.”
Clearly, use of the Latin Cross in 1925 reflected the custom in Europe during World War I where the cross became the principal grave marker in cemeteries where soldiers were buried as described in the opening lines “In Flanders Fields,” a famous poem of the time whose opening line begins “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row.”
In this case, the purpose of the cross is to honor the dead using a historical symbol of death and sacrifice. The decision to destroy this memorial, simply because the plaintiffs claim to be offended by the memorial’s Latin cross, evidences an intolerance to Christianity that is wholly inconsistent with our nation’s history and with the purpose and meaning of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.