States Join Fight to Save WWI Memorial Cross

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     (CN) – Led by West Virginia, 25 states on Monday filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Fourth Circuit in support of leaving a veterans memorial cross in Bladensburg, Maryland undisturbed.
     The 40-foot white cross honors World War I veterans and was originally erected by the American Legion in 1925 on a traffic median along the Veterans Memorial Highway between Washington and Annapolis. Although the cross was privately funded and built on private land, the memorial became public property when traffic on the highway increased.
     This past November, U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow ruled that the cross memorial is protected by the First Amendment. The plaintiffs in the case, The American Humanist Association, disagree, claiming the memorial violates the Establishment Clause by demonstrating state endorsement of religion.
     On its website , the association purports to “[advocate] progressive values for and equality for humanists, atheists and freethinkers.”
     In their 81-page brief — nearly half of which is filled with images of similar veterans monuments — the 25 states claim “a significant interest in supporting their citizen-veterans and the memorials found on public lands, including in Arlington National Cemetery, Civil War battlefields, state capitals, and countless town squares.”
     The states urge the Fourth Circuit to adopt Chasanow’s finding that “the Establishment Clause allows veterans memorials, like Bladensburg’s monument, to have religious elements, given that these memorials were built not to advance or promote religion but to pay tribute to those who laid down their lives for their country.”
     The cross conveys “a civic, secular message of honor and grief for fallen soldiers,” according to the states.
     “In the military, a cross indicates both death and bravery: a cross is the mark of heroism, for example, on the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Army’s Combat Medical Badge, and the Americal Division’s insignia,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wrote for the states.
     In addition, the Bladensburg memorial and others like it call to mind the crosses used to mark where soldiers had died in the battlefields of Europe during World War I, according to the states.
     Morrisey stressed that “any decision of this court requiring the alteration of removal of Bladensburg’s historic World War I veterans memorial would be a tragedy of historic and civic dimensions.”
     He added, “Were this memorial removed, [veterans] and their families would understandably question our country’s continuing gratitude and respect for their military service.”
     The states also worry that “a precedent finding Blandenburg’s veterans memorial unconstitutional would place at risk countless other war memorials featuring religious imagery,” including memorials such as Arlington Cemetery and others throughout the Fourth Circuit.
     South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley released a statement Wednesday detailing why his state signed the brief.
     “One of my primary responsibilities as attorney general is to protect state and individual rights. The state attorneys general are requesting the Federal Courts to recognize important Constitutional rights and respect the dedication, sacrifice, and freedoms earned by our veterans,” he said.
     In addition to West Virginia and South Dakota, attorneys general from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin signed the brief.
     The Bladensburg memorial is one of four memorial crosses honoring World War I veterans in Maryland. The others are in Baltimore and Towson and remain unchallenged.
     A similar memorial in San Diego, California was deemed unconstitutional in 2013. The federal government sold the memorial to private owners to resolve the dispute in July 2015, according to Christianity Today .