In The Public Arena

Federal Court Declares Historic World War I Veterans Memorial Constitutional, American Humanist Association Appeals 

 Bladensburg War Memorial

Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial

At Issue: The constitutionality of veterans memorials with religious imagery
Case Status: Ongoing

Summary

On November 30, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the historic Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, built in the shape of a cross, is constitutional and may continue to stand where it was erected in 1925. The decision came after a legal battle that lasted nearly two years, which began when the American Humanist Association alleged in February 2014 that the memorial violated the Establishment Clause. Read the Court’s decision. On December 28, 2015, the American Humanist Association appealed the Court's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial

The American Legion is the largest veterans service organization in the nation. In 1925, a local post of The American Legion erected the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial to honor the selfless sacrifice of 49 men from Prince George’s County, Maryland who gave their lives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I.

At the base of the Memorial Cross is a bronze plaque listing the names of the 49 fallen heroes. On the plaque above the names, along with the dates 1917 and 1918, is the inscription “This Memorial Cross Dedicated To The Heroes of Prince George’s County Who Gave Their Lives In The Great War For The Liberty Of The World.”

On the plaque beneath the names is a quote from President Woodrow Wilson, which says, “The right is more precious than peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest to our hearts; to such a task we dedicate our lives.” Four words are inscribed on the base of the memorial above the plaque, one word on each side: Valor, Endurance, Courage, Devotion. A brightly colored image of The American Legion emblem is emblazoned on the memorial on both sides of the intersection of the cross shape.

The memorial sits in the immediate vicinity of several other veterans’ memorials, including monuments to those who served in the Battle of Bladensburg (War of 1812), World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Nearby, there is also a memorial to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

Liberty Institute Defends Memorial Against Lawsuit

Although the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial has stood as a tribute to Maryland veterans for almost 90 years without any objections, the American Humanist Association and some of its members filed a complaint in February 2014, alleging that the public ownership, maintenance, and display of the memorial violated the Establishment Clause.

Liberty Institute filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of The American Legion. In September 2014, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted the motion, permitting the Legion to become a party in the lawsuit to defend the memorial. 

On November 30, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the Bladensburg World War I Memorial is constitutional. But on December 28, 2015, the American Humanist association appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fouth Circuit. 

Liberty Institute continues to represent The American Legion in defense of the memorial.

Why This Case Matters

The Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial joins a growing list of veterans memorials across the country that have come under attack for including religious imagery. However, the cross shape has been used by the military as a secular symbol of military service for much our nation’s history. For example, the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, other cross-shaped memorials and the countless crosses placed as headstones for fallen Americans are all used to honor our service members’ sacrifice.

If the Bladensburg Memorial must come down, then so to must the many veterans memorials across the country which bear religious imagery. This would require tearing down the Argonne Cross in Arlington Cemetery and sandblasting the word “God” from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Americans know that tearing down any part of these veterans memorial dishonors the selfless service of the men they were erected to honor, which is why over 90% of Americans support the preservation of veterans memorials that contain religious symbols.

Case Files

Press Release - 11/30/15

Court Opinion by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland – 11/30/15 

Court Order by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland – 11/30/15

Motion for Summary Judgment - 06/10/15

Memo for Motion - 06/10/15

 

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