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Saving the Bladensburg Peace Cross

Featured in General News, Legion Riders
Saving the Bladensburg Peace Cross
Three American Legion Riders wave to cars passing by during a May 31 rally to protect the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md. (Photo by Marty Callaghan)

More than 120 citizens, including a strong showing by American Legion Riders, staged a May 31 rally to save the Peace Cross monument in Bladensburg, Md., from being taken away. In February, a humanist group filed a lawsuit to remove the cross from its location on public land, claiming it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

The 40-foot-high Peace Cross, which includes an American Legion emblem at its crux, is located at the intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1. It was authorized through the Commissioners of Bladensburg to serve as a memorial for residents of Prince George's County who died while serving in the armed forces during World War I.

The monument's ground-breaking ceremony was held Sept. 28, 1919 – less than two weeks after The American Legion received its charter from Congress. According to the Washington Post, "Two thousand citizens of the county gathered for the exercises," where then-Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels "paid a high tribute to the heroes" who died during the war. In July 1925, the Peace Cross – with the names of 49 fallen heroes on a bronze tablet – was dedicated in a public ceremony.

Although the monument is undeniably in the shape of a Latin cross, three American Legion Riders at the rally from Post 293 in Waldorf, Md. – Bradford Lee, Sandra Linder andJeff Levesque – weren't buying the argument put forth by the American Humanist Association that the cross violates the separation between church and state.

What opponents of the cross want to do is simply wrong, Lee said. "It's a Peace Cross. It's a symbol for World War I veterans of P.G. County. It was not put there as a religious symbol. It's a cross – get over it."

Linder, a Navy veteran whose two grandfathers served in World War II, says the Peace Cross is part of her childhood; she grew up in a nearby neighborhood. She says people who want the cross moved are "inconsiderate and don't have patriotic spirit."

Levesque doesn't understand why the Peace Cross would offend some people. "It's a memorial," he said. "It's for our veterans. It's not for them. We don't take down their stuff – leave ours alone."

The Peace Cross is one of several monuments on public land across the country that have become targets of lawsuits filed by groups and individuals who claim that memorials to America's veterans and fallen servicemembers that include religious symbols are a violation of their constitutional rights; other cross-shaped monuments attacked by lawsuits include one in the Mojave Desert and another atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego.

Mark Beard, an Army veterans and sergeant-at-arms for American Legion Post 217 in College Park, Md., says he took part in the rally because the Peace Cross "represents sacrifice – it's our brothers that went before us that shed their blood for this country." He fears if the Bladensburg monument is removed, other cross-shaped memorials to America's fallen heroes are sure to follow, including the thousands of crosses at Arlington National Cemetery.

A call by anyone to remove the cross is "a slap in the face" to all veterans, Beard sajid. "Just because the memorial is in the shape of a cross, they want to dishonor our brothers from the past, and they want to tear down this memorial. As a veteran, I won't stand for it. And as an American, it just appalls me that this is even happening."

The American Legion's assistant Legislative director in Washington, Shaun Rieley, also attended the rally. He said The American Legion has filed a petition "to become a party in the lawsuit in order to defend the (Peace) Cross."

The U.S. Supreme Court, Rieley explained, held in its Salazar v. Buono ruling of April 2010 that the Latin cross, when used in the context of war memorials, "is not an explicitly religious symbol, that it can be understood as a general symbol of sacrifice and remembrance."

Writing for the majority in the Salazar case (decided by 5-4 vote) Justice Anthony Kennedy noted, "The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm."

Rieley's article about the current attack on the Peace Cross, "Memorial Madness," was published May 26 in National Review Online.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jeffrey Brown

September 25, 2014 - 5:36pm

The argument that the cross has no religious significance is disingenuous. Is it just a coincidence that so many of these memorials happen to be in the shape of a Christian symbol? It seems strange to me that a veterans service organization even takes a position at all on a Constitutional question of separation of church and state, especially when its position marginalizes its atheist and Humanist Veteran members. Arguing that the shape of the cross is mere coincidence, in addition to being absurd, steps outside the Legion's purpose of service to Veterans and our families. I have no problem with the monument itself. I find it inspiring. My objection is that it is on public land. It should be common sense for anyone planning a memorial on public property that religious symbols are (generally) inappropriate, unlawful, and have the effect of making non-Christian Veterans feel excluded and marginalized. Is that the effect the designers intended? Polished blocks of granite or obelisks are a couple of ideas for beautiful and inspiring monuments that do not run afoul of the Establishment Clause. I'm sure sculptors could come up with many more design possibilities. Thank you all for your service to our great nation.

Anonymous

June 29, 2014 - 8:27pm

"It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors." George Washington Just one more, please. "And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever." Thomas Jefferson God Bless the Constitution, and the Nation of Israel.

Bill Filber

June 29, 2014 - 8:31pm

Sorry, I forgot to write my name, and since I am proud to be a Christian Conservative and an American Veteran. I wrote the quotes from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson but they did not come out correctly, however you get the idea. Thanks and God Bless our Soldiers.

Mort S

June 10, 2014 - 10:26pm

We should ban all monuments and symbols that represent anything!! Monuments cause upheaval and lead to unethical behavior because they affect the human mind whether moron or intellectual. Join me by banning all symbols.Free ourselves of these vile symbols of Disunity on Thursday 21 June 2014 at noon in Charlotte NC. We will all meet under the Golden Arches at The Mc Donalds near State Route 23. Just follow the Billboards directions along the highway. See ya there!!

Le Roy Barnett

June 6, 2014 - 3:57pm

There is a lesson here for everyone in these postings. You find it in this forum and in many others. Those who write in a civil fashion use their full names. Those who launch ad hominem attacks or speak in a disrespectful manner very often fail to divulge their full identity. A perfect example is Scottie. He hides behind what in essence is an anonymous posting, apparently not wanting to reveal who it is that harbors the thoughts he expresses. And Jim H. asks what is Diaz afraid of? I say, what is Jim H. afraid of that makes him exclude his surname? The Army taught me that part of leadership is never asking others to do that which you won't do yourself.

Jose A. Lugo

June 5, 2014 - 8:46pm

I'm a USMC Veteran. I'm proud to be an American. This Cross is more than a Cross it is symbol of our fallen during the 1st World War and the hope that our blessed country the USA would enjoy peace through out the world. What is happening to our blessed country shall we let some confused individuals tell us what is proper and improper. How about the many who believed and had faith in our country and God who believed in that the USA and that Cross shall we turn our backs our fathers who believed and made our Country what it is today. Home of the brave and free. God Bless everyone I love you America and all your monuments.

Scottie 13053

June 5, 2014 - 5:01pm

This is to "Angel" - Because of your name, should we have YOU removed from all public areas? Maybe if you had/practiced a little religion, America wouldn't be in the mess it is today.

Cameron Clark

June 5, 2014 - 5:00pm

I was trying to find in the Constitution the separation of church and state. Guess what, it isn't in there. The First amendment does say that government shall make no law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Constitution only forbids government sponsorship and compulsion of religious exercise by individual citizens. It does not require hermetic “separation”—implying exclusion—of religion and religious persons from public affairs of state. Source Article: thepublicdiscourse/2010/10/1920/

Le Roy Barnett

June 5, 2014 - 3:10pm

Did you notice the slanted coverage? All one-sided, wasn't it? It would be good to have seen both sides of the issue represented in the article. That's the difference between writing to win and writing to inform.

Angel L. Diaz

June 3, 2014 - 2:10pm

There is no such thing as a PEACE cross. A cross is a cross. It is a religious symbol and have no place in a public area.

bruce lamberto

June 9, 2014 - 2:39pm

Using this knucklehead's rationalization, then all the crosses in every U.S. National Cemetery, including those at Normandy, France should have to be removed because they, according to this knucklehead, are a religious symbol. To me, the grave markers in the shape of a cross simply make the eternal resting place of a fallen hero.

armyvet72

June 5, 2014 - 11:45pm

I disagree. Religious sysmbol or not does not come into play here. The cross was a dedication to those who gave their lives in defense of the country at large and that includes public lands. It has nothing to do with Government imposing favortism of religion. If you want to discuss who's constitutional right is being harmed talk to the dead that gave you the right to challenge the placement of the cross on the very peace of earth he died to defend. The seperation of church and state does not mean that any item that pays tribute to the fallen is in itself a symbol bonding the church or ones faith to the government. If anyones constitutional right is being harmed it is of those that beleave we have a moral obligation to remember the very souls that gave you the freedom you now want to restrict. My suggestion is that you close your eyes if the symbol of a cross so offends you that you fall to your knees and cry. Otherwise,get over it. You have your life and Brothers and Sisters have a right to theirs too...afterall they pay taxes as well.

Yochanan Hardisty

June 6, 2014 - 8:42am

The US Veterans,who have served,are serving,this Country of ours,come from a wide variety of Religious Believers,and Non-Believers. Not just the Christian Faith. My Great Grand-father,served in WW1,and he was Jewish. My father served in the US Navy WW!!,and he was Jewish. I did my time also in the US Navy.Viet-Vet,and I am Jewish. My son has served along-side Buddhists,Hindis,Muslims,Christians,believers,and Atheists,In Iraq. Don't we all deserve respect for our service to our country? Or are only Christian Veterans deserving of our Country's Respect.?

Jim H.

June 5, 2014 - 7:11pm

You're wrong Diaz. A cross is just a cross. But it can b deemed a symbol for anything by anyone. Whether a Christian or a Peacenik. If you have a gripe about religion just say so. What are you afraid of?

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