ANN ARBOR, MI – The Thomas More Law Center (“TMLC”), a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last Friday, June 27, filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, in a last-ditch effort to save the forty-foot Bladensburg Cross, erected over ninety years ago. The Cross was erected by the American Legion and the grieving mothers of the forty-nine soldiers from Prince George County, Maryland, who were killed in World War I, in commemoration of the soldiers’ service to the Nation.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling suggested that the Cross must be destroyed, or some other arrangement made to avoid a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The forty-foot Cross, which now stands on land at a busy intersection in Maryland, was erected in the 1920s. The Cross sits on a rectangular base which includes the words “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion.” The Cross also contains a bronze plaque stating, “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 plaque includes the names of the forty-nine soldiers memorialized by the monument and a poignant 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 use of the Cross 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 lines begin “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.”
The Bladensburg Cross now stands in Veterans Memorial Park and is surrounded by numerous other monuments erected over the years commemorating those who died in our Nation’s conflicts.
Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit based its decision that the Bladensburg Cross was in violation of the Establishment Clause on its finding that the cross is the “preeminent symbol of Christianity,” and that while a 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.
TMLC claims that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision ordering the removal or destruction of the Bladensburg Cross simply because it is a religious symbol of Christianity, shows a hostility toward religion, particularly Christianity, not intended by the Constitution, and puts at risk hundreds of memorials with similar symbols including those at Arlington Cemetery where crosses of comparable size commemorate America’s fallen soldiers.
According to TMLC’s brief:
“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.”
TMLC writes, that in this case, the primary purpose of the Latin 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 use of the 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.
TMLC stands with The American Legion and its fight to preserve the Bladensburg memorial to respect the decision of the bereaved parents, who nearly a century ago chose to honor their deceased children with the monument as it currently stands.