(Left to Right: Medal of Honor recipient and Marine listed on the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, Captain Henry Lewis Hulbert; the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial; African-American soldier, Private John Henry Seaburn, Jr., honored by the Bladensburg World War I Memorial. Photo credit: First Liberty Institute).
Nov. 11, 2018, marked the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. Millions were killed in the conflict, including over 100,000 Americans, and several memorials across the United States honor their sacrifice. One such cross-shaped memorial, privately built and subsequently acquired by the government, was ruled by the 4th Circuit of Appeals to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. First Liberty Institute has taken up the cause to defend the monument, and it announced earlier this month that the Supreme Court has accepted the appeal of The American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association et al. First Liberty and Jones Day will be representing The American Legion in their fight to keep the Bladensburg Peace Cross.
In 2014, the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit, claiming that because the memorial was publicly owned and maintained, the city had violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment with the cross-shaped memorial and that it should be removed, altered, or destroyed. While the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled the memorial was constitutional — citing the use of crosses to mark the graves of fallen American servicemen overseas — the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and decided in favor of AHA. First Liberty and the American Legion appealed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There are some who want to erase the memory of the service and sacrifice of these 49 fallen servicemen of Prince George’s County,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty. “If this monument is bulldozed to the ground, it’s only a matter of time before the wrecking ball turns on Arlington National Cemetery and the thousands of memorials like this one across the country.”
The memorial was built by members of the local American Legion post and local Gold-Star mothers in 1925, with private funds and donations, to commemorate the 49 local servicemen who gave their lives while serving in World War I. The memorial stands 40 feet tall and is part of a series of memorials to veterans of a number of different wars. According to First Liberty, “The Gold-Star mothers who designed the memorial in 1919 chose a cross shape to recall the cross-shaped grave markers standing over the countless American graves on the Western Front of that war. One mother referred to the memorial as her son’s ‘gravestone.’”
In 1961, the state of Maryland “obtained title to the Cross and the land on which it sits...in part because of safety concerns arising from the placement of the Cross in the middle of a busy traffic median.” The state, therefore, took over the responsibility of maintaining and caring for the memorial.
Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion, and a partner at Jones Day and First Liberty network attorney said, “For nearly 100 years the memorial has stood to honor these 49 sons of Prince George’s County who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The Supreme Court should not allow their memory to be bulldozed.”
First Liberty was formed in 1997 to defend religious liberty in Texas. Today this case is just one of many that First Liberty has taken on to help preserve religious liberty for Americans across the country.