A 40-foot-tall Latin cross made of marble and cement stands at the center of one of the busiest intersections in Bladensburg, Maryland. The “Peace Cross” was built in 1925 as a tribute to local men who perished during World War I. Originally paid for by local families, businesses, and the American Legion, the cross sits on a piece of land that has been owned by a state commission that pays for its maintenance and upkeep since 1961.
The American Humanist Association filed a complaint against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in February 2014, challenging the constitutionality of an overtly religious symbol owned, maintained, and funded by a government entity. The AHA won a similar case in Florida in 2018, alleging that a large cross in a Pensacola city park violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately held that the Bladensburg cross unconstitutionally endorses Christianity and fosters excessive government entanglement with religion. In June 2018, the American Legion and the Commission petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the case. In November, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the Bladensburg cross display violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Oral arguments in American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. Learn more:
- The American Humanist Association’s myth-busting FAQs about the case
- Symposium: Supreme Court at the crossroads of the establishment clause as it considers a cross
- Symposium: Cross purposes — Why a Christian symbol can’t memorialize all war dead
- Symposium: The establishment clause strictly prohibits government preference for one faith — That could change with the Bladensburg Cross case
Join Us at the Supreme Court
Interfaith Alliance and partners will rally to support veterans of all faiths and none on the steps of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, February 27, 2019. Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, is a featured speaker. RSVP today!
Can’t be there in person? The American Humanist Association has launched a social media campaign to #HonorThemAll. Join the growing list of supporters who are firm in their message: our government has no place in endorsing any one religion.
Amici Curiae (Friends of the Court)
Amicus briefs are filed by groups that are not directly involved in a case but have a strong interest in the subject matter. The briefs advise the court of relevant, additional information or arguments that the court might wish to consider.
Interfaith Alliance Calls for Memorials that Honor All Veterans, Without Privileging One Faith Over Others
Interfaith Alliance joined a wide array of religious and civil rights organizations in challenging the constitutionality of government sponsorship of religious symbols. Together, we assert that the Bladensburg cross is an unambiguously Christian symbol that does not honor all veterans, as it disregards the diverse traditions and beliefs of those who served and died for our country. The brief states:
“America’s fallen soldiers and the sacrifices that they and their families have made are all worthy of remembrance and recognition. Rather than commemorate only Christian soldiers through a misguided use of the cross, government ought to acknowledge the equal worth, equal dignity, and equal sacrifice of all who gave their lives in service to our Nation.
“What is more, many people today who see the Bladensburg Cross will simply have no idea that it was a war memorial….But they certainly understand it to be government-sponsored. … To many — including the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, nonbelievers, and others who live in Maryland — this prominent official display does precisely what the counties here deny: It communicates a strong message of preference for Christians and exclusion and second-class status for non-Christians.”
The brief was written by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. In addition to Interfaith Alliance, they are joined by the American Civil Liberties Union; ACLU of Maryland; Anti-Defamation League; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc.; Hindu American Foundation; Jewish Social Policy Action Network; Men of Reform Judaism; National Council of Jewish Women; People For the American Way Foundation; Reconstructing Judaism; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Union for Reform Judaism; and Women of Reform Judaism.
The Baptist Joint Committee Demonstrates the Objectively Religious Symbolism of the Latin Cross
Interfaith Alliance partner, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, submitted an amicus brief asserting that the Bladensburg Cross is unconstitutional and urging the Court not to open the door to new displays of a similar nature even if this particular cross is found lawful. They write:
“Petitioners would… reduce the cross from the most fundamental and most sacred Christian symbol to the least of religious symbols. . . .Over and over, petitioners describe the cross as merely a memorial in “the shape of a cross,” and similar circumlocutions, as though shape in this case were some incidental characteristic of little importance.
There is no ambiguity about the primary, predominant, and objective meaning of a Latin cross. The cross is the central symbol of Christianity, invoking the central theological claim of Christianity…The aggressive rationalizations of petitioners’ version of the reasonable observer cannot change this obvious and dominant meaning.”
The brief was written by noted First Amendment scholar Douglas Laycock and the BJC. They are joined by the American Jewish Committee, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)