In honor of the 49 men of Prince George's County who died in World War I, the Snyder-Farmer Post of the American Legion of Hyattsville, Maryland, erected a 40-foot-tall cross made of concrete and marble.
Also known as the "Peace Cross," the Bladensburg World War I Memorial was dedicated on July 13, 1925. At its base, it features a bronze plaque inscribed with the following quote from President Woodrow Wilson:
"The right is more precious than the peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest our hearts; to such a task we dedicate ourselves."
The monument's base is also inscribed with the following words: Valor, Endurance, Courage and Devotion. But to a group of atheists who have attacked military memorials that bear crosses across the country, it's an unacceptable government endorsement of Christianity.
Last year, the American Legion, with the assistance of the Jones Day law firm and First Liberty Institute, won a federal lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the war memorial. Their attorneys argued the cross is an internationally recognized symbol honoring men who gave their lives in World War I.
"This cross was erected to honor local American heroes who gave their lives in World War I," Noel Francisco, lead counsel for The American Legion and chair of Jones Day's Government Regulation Practice, said. "It complies with the law in every respect and should stay right where it is. Tearing it down would lead to the very religious divisiveness the Founders intended to avoid when they wrote the First Amendment."
But that hasn't stopped the American Humanist Association, which appealed the matter to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The AHA is asking that the cross be altered, removed or demolished because it features a cross.
"The American Humanist Association is using the First Amendment to attack a 90-year-old veterans memorial simply because it is in the shape of a cross," First Liberty President and CEO Kelly Shakelford said. "That is sad and that is not the law. We must protect these memorials and other monuments that honor our nation's military heroes."
This week, Jones Day and First Liberty filed a brief asking the court to uphold the lower court's ruling. According to Kassie Dulin, Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty, dozens of congressional members will file an amicus curiae brief in support of the memorial next week.
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