Lawsuit:

American Humanist Association, Steven Lowe, Fred Edwords, and Bishop McNeill, v. Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission

In 2014, the American Humanist Association brought suit against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, challenging the government’s ownership and maintenance of a 40 foot-tall Christian cross towering over a busy intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland.  


The United States District Court of Maryland upheld the constitutionality of the cross and the AHA appealed. Following oral arguments in December 2016, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the order of the district court and ruled the cross unconstitutional in October 2017. The court reasoned:


“One simply cannot ignore the fact that for thousands of years the Latin cross has represented Christianity. Even in the memorial context, a Latin cross serves not simply as a generic symbol of death, but rather a Christian symbol of the death of Jesus Christ.


. . .displaying the Cross, particularly given its size, history, and context, amounts to excessive entanglement because the Commission is displaying the hallmark symbol of Christianity in a manner that dominates its surroundings and not only overwhelms all other monuments at the park, but also excludes all other religious tenets. The display aggrandizes the Latin cross in a manner that says to any reasonable observer that the Commission either places Christianity above other faiths, views being American and Christian as one in the same, or both.”


The government filed a motion for rehearing en banc, asking the entire Fourth Circuit to rehear and then reverse the ruling. In March 2018, the majority of active judges on the Fourth Circuit Court voted against the government’s motion and upheld the decision finding the cross unconstitutional. In his separate opinion on the decision to deny the government’s request for en banc review, Judge Wynn reiterated:


“Our holding that the State’s ongoing ownership and maintenance of the Bladensburg Cross violated the Establishment Clause recognizes that to hold otherwise would require this Court to accept the Commission’s conclusion that the Latin cross does not have the ‘principal or primary effect’ of advancing the Christian faith. To give the judiciary the power to prescribe and proscribe the meaning of an unadorned, traditionally religious symbol like the Latin cross would infringe on intensely personal and sacred questions of religious meaning and belief. . . .


To allow this Court to circumscribe the Bladensburg Cross’s meaning and power, as the Commission and its amici request, would empower this Court to diminish the Latin cross’s many years of accrued religious symbolism, and thereby amount to the state degradation of religion that the Framers feared and sought to proscribe.”


In June 2018, the government and the American Legion petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari. In late July and early August, 2018, AHA filed briefs in opposition in both pending petitions up for consideration. On November 2, granting and consolidating the governments’ and American Legion’s petitions, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments from the American Humanist Association.

 

Monica Miller, senior counsel, delivered oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States on February 27, 2019.

The Supreme Court issued a decision on June 20, 2019.

Frequently Asked Questions:

 

Bladensburg Cross Case FAQs

 

 

Selected Case Documents:

District Court (Case No. 8:14-cv-00550-DKC):

Complaint (February 25, 2014)
District Court Memorandum Opinion (November 30, 2015) 

Appeal (Case No. 15-2597):

Brief of Appellants (February 29, 2016)

Reply Brief of Appellants (April 18, 2016)

Fourth Circuit Oral Arguments (December 7, 2016)

Fourth Circuit Decision (October 18, 2017)

Appellant Response to Petition for Rehearing En Banc (November 20, 2017)

Fourth Circuit Order Denying Request for Rehearing En Banc (March 1, 2018)

American Legion Supreme Court Petition for Certiorari (Case No. 17-1717):

Brief in Opposition (July 27, 2018)

Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission Supreme Court Petition for Certiorari (Case No. 18-18):

Brief in Opposition (August 2, 2018)

Brief for Respondents (January 23, 2019)

Supreme Court Arguments:

Argument Transcript (February 27, 2019)

Argument Audio (February 27, 2019)

Supreme Court Opinion (June 20, 2019)

 

Selected Media Coverage:

The Washington Post (March 2, 2018)

Federal Court Upholds Ruling that Cross-Shaped Monument on Public Land in Md. is Unconstitutional

 

The Economist (March 6, 2018)

Does a Memorial to Fallen Soldiers Breach the Church-State Wall?

 

The New York Times (October 29, 2017)

A 40-Foot Cross Has Honored War Dead for 90 Years. Is It Unlawful?

 

Fox News (March 4, 2014)

Humanist Group Sues to Remove Cross-Shaped WWI Memorial in Maryland

 

 

Press Releases:

June 20, 2019

Supreme Court Approves Publicly Funded Christian Favoritism

February 27, 2019

Humanists Conclude Oral Arguments at the Supreme Court

February 15, 2019
Rhode Island AG Withdraws from Bladensburg Case after Pressure from Humanists of Rhode Island

January 23, 2019

Humanists Fight to Honor All Veterans in Final Supreme Court Filing

November 2, 2018

AHLC Will Defend Church State Separation at the Supreme Court

August 2, 2018
Humanists File Second Supreme Court Brief in Bladensburg Cross Case

July 27, 2018
Humanists File Supreme Court Brief in Bladensburg Cross Case

March 1, 2018

AHA Legal Victory in Appeals Court Ruling on Bladensburg Cross

November 20, 2017

Bladensburg Cross Case: Frequently Asked Questions

November 20, 2017

Bladensburg Cross Appeal Case Begins

October 18, 2017

Appellate Court Rules Maryland Cross Unconstitutional

December 7, 2016
AHA Presents Oral Arguments Defending First Amendment from Bladensburg Cross

December 6, 2016

Media Advisory: AHA to Present Oral Arguments Against Bladensburg Cross

April 19, 2016

Bladensburg Cross Excludes Non-Christian Veterans, Says AHA to Appeals Court

February 29, 2016

Bladensburg Cross Endorses Religion, Says AHA in Appeal

December 28, 2015

AHA Appeals Lawsuit against Bladensburg Cross Monument

May 4, 2015

Humanist Group Files for Summary Judgment in Case Against Bladensburg Cross

February 25, 2014
Lawsuit Demands Removal of 40-Foot Christian Cross from Government Property

September 5, 2012

Bladensburg Peace Cross Should Come Down, Atheist Group Argues
 

 

© 2021 Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

An adjunct organization of the American Humanist Association