The Bladensburg Cross is a war memorial erected in 1925 to honor 49 men from Prince George’s County, MD, who died serving in the American military in World War I and are buried overseas. Their bereaved mothers and the American Legion erected the monument. Those Gold Star mothers chose the shape of the memorial to match the crosses that marked countless American graves on the Western Front of that war.
While the memorial is in the shape of a cross, it also bears a list of the 49 sons of Prince George’s County it honors. An inscription reads “The Memorial Cross Dedicated To The Heroes of Prince George’s County Who Gave Their Lives In The Great War For The Liberty Of The World.” The American Legion emblem is emblazoned at the center of the memorial, and the words “Valor,” “Endurance,” “Courage,” and “Devotion” are inscribed one on each side of the memorial.
The Memorial stood peacefully until February 2014, when the American Humanist Association and others filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging its constitutionality. The district court rejected the challenge, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, over a dissent. It held that the sectarian elements, specifically “the immense size and prominence of the Cross,” overwhelmed the secular elements and represented an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. If the Fourth Circuit’s decision stands, the Memorial will have to be taken down or defaced. The United States Supreme Court agreed to consider the case in mid-November.
The ACRU filed a brief contending that the Fourth Circuit got it wrong. In its brief, the ACRU first pointed to the way in which the American forces helped to turn the tide in the Allies favor; that alone makes their contribution worthy of remembrance. It next suggested that those challenging the constitutionality of the Memorial lack standing. The ACRU encouraged the Court to consider standing, which is embedded in the case and a linchpin for federal court jurisdiction over any case.
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in this case on February 27, 2019, and a decision will be rendered before the end of June 2019.