Judiciary

No More Crosses?

A case being appealed to the Supreme Court may settle whether memorial crosses are "unconstitutional."

Caroline C. Lewis · Mar. 15, 2018

Imagine Arlington Cemetery with no crosses. Imagine the word “God” sandblasted from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Imagine Biblical verses removed from the U.S. Capitol. This is the world the radical atheists want. This is the world they almost have.

First Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest legal organization dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom, is currently appealing a case to the Supreme Court so this doesn’t happen.

Here’s how it began. In 1925, Gold Star families and the American Legion (the largest veterans service organization in the U.S.) built the 40-foot-tall Bladensburg Veteran’s Memorial, also known as the “Peace Cross,” in memory of the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who died in World War I. The names of the 49 deceased veterans and the words “Courage,” “Valor,” “Endurance” and “Devotion” appear on the monument.

The cross stood as a peaceful memorial to the fallen veterans until February 2014, when the American Humanist Association (AHA) claimed that the monument unconstitutionally violated the Establishment Clause because of its public ownership and demanded that it be demolished, altered or removed. The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled in favor of the monument’s constitutionality citing the cross as a military symbol for sacrifice, courage and remembrance. However, in December 2015, the AHA appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the memorial was unconstitutional. On March 1, 2018, the Fourth Circuit denied the en banc rehearing, leaving an appeal to the Supreme Court as the final option.

Hiram Sasser, chief counsel for First Liberty, notes, “If [the Fourth Circuit] decision stands, other memorials, including those in nearby Arlington Cemetery, will be targeted for destruction as well.” If the decision from the Fourth Circuit stands, and the Supreme Court refuses to hear the appeal case, it would mean that all crosses on public property are “unconstitutional.”

The case rests on whether the Establishment Clause — the first sentence of the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — prohibits the public display of crosses.

The establishment of a religion means having an official, government-sponsored religion. Some have also interpreted the Establishment Clause as meaning government “neutrality.” According to the American Humanist Association’s website, the Establishment Clause also prohibits the government from “entangling itself in religious matters without a religiously neutral reason.” Government ought to be “neutral” toward religion and not favor one over the other. But a big difference exists between “neutrality” and “hostility.”

While the AHA claims “Good Without A God,” as its motto, is it fair or tolerant to force that belief on everyone else? Radical atheism does not say, “I believe in nothing, and you can believe in God if you want.” Rather, it says, “I believe in nothing and it is my right to not see, hear or experience anything about God anywhere.” Whether it is “No, you can’t pray,” or “No, you can’t put a Bible verse there,” or “No, I don’t want to see a cross” — even if it’s in the middle of the desert — the radical atheists do not seek to live in mutual tolerance. They cannot rest until they have converted all of society into a religiously sterile culture. Our legal system should not bow down to this dogmatic, anti-tolerant behavior as the “neutral” option. Rather, radical atheists should practice the tolerance they demand from others.

Following their Fourth Circuit win, AHA Senior Counsel Monica Miller, who argued the case, stated, “This is a big win not only for separation of church and state, but for all non-Christian veterans who are excluded from an enormous Christian cross war memorial.”

But how many of the fallen men were actually atheists? The families of the fallen soldiers decided on that particular shape to remember their fallen sons, brothers and husbands. Would it not dishonor their choice to remove or destroy it? If, in fact, the non-Christian veterans feel excluded, why do they not build their own non-cross memorial?

Further, while the AHA argues that the cross represents a sectarian, exclusionary religious symbol, the cross also represents military heroism. Some of the highest military honors include crosses such as the Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force Cross, the Navy Cross, and others granted for exemplary military service. The cross also stands as an internationally recognized symbol of bravery and sacrifice as exemplified in the Victoria Cross in England and the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) in France.

The cross also represents a memorial. These men lost their lives in a foreign war on foreign soil. While some of their bodies were later repatriated, many were buried overseas. For several families, the “Peace Cross” stood as the only place where grieving families could pay honor to their loved ones.

Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion and partner at Jones Day, notes, “This memorial has stood in honor of local veterans for almost 100 years and is lawful under the First Amendment. To remove it would be a tremendous dishonor to the local men who gave their lives during the Great War.”

The case also has bipartisan support. Eight Republican and Democrat members of Congress joined in support of the memorial by filing an amicus brief with the Fourth Circuit Court.

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty, states, “Memorials are living reminders of our country’s history and the cost of war. How will we remember the fallen or teach the next generation about service and sacrifice if we start bulldozing veterans memorials and cemeteries across America? We will continue our work to overturn this decision and defend the memory of those who preserved freedom.”

Learn more and sign the petition: DontTearMeDown.com

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