Religious Symbol Violates First Amendment’s Church-State Separation
For Immediate Release
(Washington, DC—Feb. 25, 2014)—A federal lawsuit filed today is demanding removal of a 40-foot Christian cross on government property in a Washington, DC, suburb. The suit, filed on behalf of three plaintiffs by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, alleges that the massive structure, which sits on a roadway median in Bladensburg, Maryland, violates the separation of church and state principle of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A letter sent by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center to the commission in 2012 asking that the constitutional violation be corrected resulted in no action.
“To any passerby, a huge cross such as this can only be understood as endorsing Christianity,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Legal Director David Niose. “On public property, that violates the Establishment Clause. We can all support memorials to those who have fought for our country, but they cannot take the form of a massive religious symbol on government property.”
The cross, which has been lit at night since 1965, rests on a large rectangular platform that contains a small plaque with the names of those from Prince George’s County, Maryland who died in World War I. The modest plaque is dominated by the cross and is regularly blocked by bushes. There are no crosswalks connecting the location to the surrounding high-traffic roads and the island has no walkways, aspects that contribute to making the structure easily viewed as a state-endorsed symbol of support for Christianity. The property is owned by the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission, a government agency.
The history of the cross also contains many religious elements. Initial fundraising efforts included the following pledge that was signed by those who gave money: “We, the citizens of Maryland, trusting in God, the Supreme Ruler of the universe, pledge faith in our brothers who gave their all in the world war to make the world safe for democracy. Their mortal bodies have turned to dust, but their spirit lives to guide us through life in the way of godliness, justice and liberty. With our motto, ‘One God, One Country and one Flag,’ we contribute to this memorial cross commemorating the memory of those who have not died in vain.” The cross also contains an emblem of a gold star with the letters “U.S.” in its center.
The complaint asks for “an injunction enjoining the Defendant (and its successors) from displaying the Bladensburg Cross on public property or otherwise in violation of the Establishment Clause.”
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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other non-religious Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.