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Peace Cross in Bladensburg could become center of Supreme Court fight

The Peace Cross honoring the county's fallen from World War I was erected in 1925 and sits in Bladensburg, Maryland. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON — In recent years, the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland, has been at the center of a court battle.

The fight is over whether or not the government possessing and maintaining the monument at the World War I memorial is a violation of the separation of church and state.

The question was raised to the courts in a lawsuit filed by the American Humanist Association, and in October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit sided with the organization.

Now, several Maryland lawmakers have joined a call to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on the dispute.

“This is not something that is akin to, say, the Ten Commandments being put on the steps of the courthouse,” said Maryland state Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery County.

Smith is among eight state senators calling for the preservation of the 40-foot cross, which has towered over Bladensburg Road and Baltimore Avenue since 1925. He said the cross is part of a secular memorial, where people from across the religious spectrum come to pay their respects.

In the federal appeals court decision, two of the three judges claimed “the display aggrandizes the Latin cross,” and said the cross entangles the government in religion. The court ruling was that the government is violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which possesses and maintains the site, and the American Legion urged the judges to rehear the case, but the court denied that request.

“The government can’t prefer one religion over another, and it certainly can’t do so by placing a 40-foot Christian cross in the middle of a busy highway intersection,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the American Humanist Association.

Miller said the organization, which is behind other cases involving the separation of church and state, is willing to take its arguments to the Supreme Court if the court decides to hear the case.

“Without a doubt, it does not recognize or honor the service of non-Christian veterans,” Miller said about the cross.

Court briefs for and against the Supreme Court hearing the case continue to be filed. Both sides must now wait to find out if the highest court will decide to hear the case.


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