A 40-foot concrete and granite cross memorializing fallen World War I soldiers is the subject of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, in a fight over whether such a symbol should be allowed to stand on public land.
What's the background?
The Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland, was erected in 1925 — completed by The American Legion with private donations — to honor 49 local men who died in the war just a few years before. It was the brainchild of a group of Gold Star mothers in remembrance of their fallen sons.
The words "courage," "devotion, " endurance," and "valor" are inscribed on the sides of the cross, and the names of the 49 men are at its base. According to the Washington Post, all of the soldiers memorialized by the Peace Cross were Christian.
The monument is currently owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission with taxpayer dollars. In 2014, the American Humanist Association filed a complaint against the commission, arguing that the Peace Cross clearly violates the separation between church and state, and should either be "removed, reshaped, or its ownership reassigned."
A federal judge refused to order the removal of the cross in 2015, saying it was a secular memorial of historic significance. But the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of appeals agreed with the AHA, and determined that the "monolithic Christian cross unconstitutionally endorses Christianity and fosters excessive government entanglement with religion."
If that ruling stands, monuments across the nation could be impacted. In a court filing made on behalf of 109 members of Congress in support of the Peace Cross, attorneys wrote, "The decision below calls into question the constitutionality of countless federal monuments, historic places, and national traditions that use a cross or other 'inherently religious' symbols or language to commemorate our nation's history and to reflect values shared by the American people."
Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute, which is spearheading the legal effort to save the cross, told Fox News, "The Supreme Court should honor the way Gold-Star mothers chose to remember the service and sacrifice of their sons who died defending our freedom."
"If this gravestone is bulldozed to the ground, it's only a matter of time before the wrecking ball turns on Arlington National Cemetery and the hundreds of memorials like this one across the country," Shackelford added.