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Humanists Challenge Cross War Memorial in Maryland

Forty-Foot Tall Christian Cross in Bladensburg, MD on Public Property is Unconstitutional

For Immediate Release

Contact: Brian Magee, 202-238-9088, mobile: (202) 681-2425, bmagee@americanhumanist.org

(Washington, DC, August 23, 2012) — The American Humanist Association is asking the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission to remove the “Peace Cross,” a World War I memorial in the form of a large Christian cross owned and maintained by the Commission on public property at the intersection of several major roads near the Washington, D.C. line.

In a letter dated Aug. 22, 2012, the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center informed the Commission that courts have consistently found that the government cannot erect or maintain permanent crosses on public property without violating the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which requires separation of church and state.

(The full letter can be found here: http://humanistlegalcenter.org/main/legal-center-seeks-removal-of-bladensburg-cross/)

“The cross is a Christian symbol, and government should not be in the business of promoting religion. When government oversteps its bounds, as in this case, it sends a negative message to those who don’t hold Christian beliefs,” said American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “A war memorial should be inclusive and recognize everyone’s service and sacrifice. We owe it to our veterans to replace this memorial with something more appropriate and universal.”

“This cross amounts to an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity on public land,” said Bill Burgess, attorney and legal coordinator of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “It is an exclusively Christian symbol that does not represent the sacrifice of non-Christian soldiers. Its prominent presence on public land leaves any observer with the notion that Christianity is exclusively favored and promoted by the government.”

The Peace Cross, as it has become known, was erected in 1922 with the support of a local American Legion post on land owned by the town of Bladensburg. The names of the 49 citizens of Prince George’s County who died during the First World War are listed on a plaque on the platform on which the cross sits.

Recent court decisions unequivocally support the notion that clearly sectarian symbols on government property are unconstitutional. In 2011, a 43-foot cross that dominates the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, CA was ruled unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2010, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that crosses erected on public land along Utah highways to commemorate slain highway patrol officers were likewise unconstitutional. The Supreme Court rejected appeals in both cases.

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 150 local chapters and affiliates across America. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and The Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

Image from HMdb.org by F. Robby

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