Jan 30, 2019

A towering 40-foot-tall Latin cross sits on government property in Bladensburg, Md., as an official memorial to all veterans and fallen soldiers. However, a wide array of interfaith organizations unite in one belief today – that this symbol of Christianity does not honor all of our veterans, as it disregards the diverse faiths and beliefs of all of those who served and died for our country.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined by 14 religious and civil rights organizations, urged the U.S. Supreme Court today to affirm that this religious symbol on public property and maintained with taxpayer dollars is unconstitutional.   

“Our service members made the ultimate sacrifice to our nation. Our government must treat them equally and honor them equally,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “The cross is an inherently Christian symbol. And this cross towering over a community allegedly to commemorate all veterans excludes and dishonors the sacrifices made by thousands of non-Christian veterans. We must remain true to the fundamental principles of our country that these men and women fought and died for – our Constitution. We cannot allow our government to favor one religion over another, especially when it comes to honoring our veterans.”  

Americans United led the organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief today in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a case challenging the constitutionality of the towering cross located on public land on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The nearly century-old cross was originally created as a World War I memorial and was rededicated as a memorial for all veterans in 1985. The cross is owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a bi-county agency empowered by the state to administer regional parks in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

“America’s fallen soldiers and the sacrifices that they and their families have made are all worthy of remembrance and recognition,” the brief states. “Rather than commemorate only Christian soldiers through a misguided use of the cross, government ought to acknowledge the equal worth, equal dignity, and equal sacrifice of all who gave their lives in service to our Nation.

“What is more, many people today who see the Bladensburg Cross will simply have no idea that it was a war memorial...,” the brief continues. “But they certainly understand it to be government-sponsored. … To many—including the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, nonbelievers, and others who live in Maryland—this prominent official display does precisely what the counties here deny: It communicates a strong message of preference for Christians and exclusion and second-class status for non-Christians.”

Organizations joining Americans United on the brief include the American Civil Liberties Union; ACLU of Maryland; Anti-Defamation League; Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc.; Hindu American Foundation; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Jewish Social Policy Action Network; Men of Reform Judaism; National Council of Jewish Women; People For the American Way Foundation; Reconstructing Judaism; Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Union for Reform Judaism; and Women of Reform Judaism.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.