The U.S. Constitution allows a large Latin cross to stay as the centerpiece of the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, a federal court in Maryland ruled Monday.
In 1925, the American Legion erected the Bladensburg cross as a memorial honoring 49 men in Prince George’s County, Maryland, who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in World War I.
But in 2014, the American Humanist Association attacked the memorial, filing a lawsuit against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The atheists argued to the federal district court that a memorial in the shape of a cross violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which forbids the government from establishing an official religion.
Liberty Institute, the largest law firm in the country that focuses exclusively on religious freedom, took up the case and intervened on behalf of the American Legion, which became a full party to the case. Liberty Institute then brought in a top global law firm, Jones Day, to lead the case, with Noel Francisco as lead counsel.
Today, U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow ruled in favor of the American Legion, and against the American Humanist Association.
In her 36-page opinion, the Clinton-appointed Chasanow held that while a Latin cross is a symbol often associated with Christianity, it does not violate the Constitution in this context. The judge noted that courts disagree over what test they are supposed to use in these cases, but that under any of the tests modern federal courts apply, Bladensburg’s cross passes muster.
Liberty Institute CEO Kelly Shackelford praised Monday’s decision, saying, “This victory sets an important precedent. It not only affirms the Bladensburg Memorial will remain in its place of honor, but helps ensure that all the nation’s veterans memorials, and the veterans they honor, will be protected.”
Francisco agreed, adding, “We are grateful that the court ruled in our favor and upheld the memorial’s lawfulness under the First Amendment. This memorial has stood for almost 100 years in honor of the fallen, and should be allowed to stand for 100 more.”
The atheists are likely to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and some legal experts believe this case could even go to the Supreme Court of the United States.