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Culture Beat / Oct. 20, 2017

90-Year-Old WWI Cross Memorial Ruled Unconstitutional

The court said that it violated the establishment clause. Another win for the anti-religion crowd.

The Fourth Circuit Court recently ruled in a 2-1 decision that a 40-foot tall cross honoring Prince George’s County, Maryland, veterans who died fighting in World War I was unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause. The monument, known as the Peace Cross, was erected in 1925 with funding from local families and The American Legion and it sits on public land. It has been maintained over the years by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a state agency.

Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory, who was the sole judge voting against the majority decision, stated that the majority “ignores certain elements of the memorial … and confuses maintenance of a highway median and monument in a state park with excessive religious entanglement.” He also said, “This memorial stands in witness to the valor, endurance, courage and devotion of the forty-nine residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland ‘who lost their lives in the Great War for the liberty of the world.’ I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.”

In its ruling the court rejected the argument that since Arlington National Cemetery contains overt displays of religious symbols, specifically crosses, and is public land, that removing the Peace Cross would set a precedent that would eventually require the removal of those religious symbols as well. Judge Stephanie Thacker said that the difference here is one of size, “The crosses there are much smaller than the 40-foot tall monolith at issue here,” she said. “And, significantly, Arlington National Cemetery displays diverse religious symbols, both as monuments and on individual headstones.”

So, once again the First Amendment declaration that government should not establish any one religion is used to eliminate the free exercise of it. Moreover, the symbol of the cross is understood to be synonymous with sacrifice, an entirely appropriate symbol to use to recognize the ultimate sacrifice these men gave in service to their country. It’s a shame that the prejudicial offense of the few should so limit the freedom of expression for the entire country.

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