By Brett Gillin
The American Humanist Association has filed a lawsuit against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission requesting that a cross-shaped World War I memorial be taken down. The memorial, known as the Bladensburg Peace Cross, is a 40 foot tall memorial dedicated to the 49 Prince George’s County Maryland residents who lost their lives during World War I.
According to this story in the Washington Times, the American Humanist Association is claiming that the monument violates the separation of church and state and the First Amendment to the Constitution. They base these claims on the fact that the cross is a Christian symbol and the memorial is located on government-owned property, so it must be taken down.
The report in the Washington Times quotes a David Niose, legal director at Appignani Humanist Legal Center, press release which states “to any passerby, a huge cross such as this can only be understood as endorsing Christianity. 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.”
Steven Lowe, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, issued a statement claiming that he was shocked when he first saw the cross. The complaint goes on to explain that Steven Lowe ”believes that the Bladensburg Cross associates a Christian religious symbol with the state and gives the impression that the state supports and approves of Christianity, as opposed to other religions, and that the state may even prefer Christians and Christianity over other religions. As a non-Christian, Mr. Lowe is personally offended and feels excluded by this governmental message.”
Kira Calm Lewis, the spokesperson for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission told the local ABC News affiliate that there are currently no plans to remove the cross, despite the lawsuit. The Park and Planning Commission has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit, and according to this report, both sides are claiming that they are ready to fight for their beliefs in court.
A lawyer with the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center told reporters “we are certainly recommending coming up with a monument inclusive of all religious groups.”
The monument was first commissioned in 1925, and was restored and rededicated by the Park and Planning Commission in 1965.