Bladensburg Cross Case: Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why are you opposing a memorial that honors World War I veterans?
Using a Christian cross as a war memorial does not make the cross secular. It makes the war memorial religious. We are not opposed to memorials honoring our veterans. Government-sponsored memorials, however, cannot endorse one particular religion over others. The 40-foot Bladensburg Cross, standing alone on public land and maintained by the government (with over $217,000 of taxpayer money invested in its renovations and maintenance), obviously endorses Christianity, and that makes it unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment.
Bladensburg Cross sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion that only Christian soldiers are being honored. It certainly does not honor the 3,500 Jewish soldiers who died in World War I.
The county can easily honor veterans without maintaining and displaying a Christian cross. The Fourth Circuit’s decision even recommended that the arms be removed to form an inclusive obelisk. Since the American Revolution, thousands of government-owned war memorials have been dedicated, and most do not use any religious iconography. These memorials are constitutional and inclusive, recognizing the service of all veterans regardless of their faith.
2. Isn’t this just a cross-shaped memorial?
The Bladensburg Cross is not just “cross-shaped” – it is a 40-foot Christian cross! Federal courts have uniformly recognized that a Christian cross (sometimes called a Latin cross) is sectarian and the preeminent symbol of Christianity. Further, the Bladensburg Cross has frequently been used for Christian religious activity.
3. Will this case put other memorials in jeopardy?
No. That claim is a scare tactic made by those who want to keep the cross on government property. It’s important to realize that this case doesn’t change the law– it simply applies the law as it has stood for many years. Government-owned cross displays are almost always considered unconstitutional.
4. What about the gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery and similar fields of crosses at other cemeteries?
That’s a good example of crosses that would not be affected in any way by this case. The gravestones of individuals, of course, can have religious symbols on them. Arlington has gravestones that include crosses, Stars of David, and symbols from many different religions. This case does not threaten those religious symbols in any way. No reasonable observer would conclude that the government is endorsing Christianity just because an individual’s gravestone includes a cross. That’s not the case, however, with the 40-foot Bladensburg Cross standing alone in the middle of a busy intersection.
5. How is the Cross different from a Ten Commandments memorial?
Ten Commandments displays, unlike Christian crosses, are not considered by courts to be exclusively religious. Although we disagree with these rulings since the Ten Commandments are indeed pervasively religious to a reasonable observer, it's important to note that legal precedent distinguishes Ten Commandments displays from public crosses. Courts have ruled that the Ten Commandments, when presented with other similar-sized secular displays relating to the foundation of law, can sometimes have a separate, secular meaning that is tied to our nation's foundation of laws and law-making, emphasizing that Moses was understood as a lawgiver as well as a religious leader. Courts consider a cross, on the other hand, to be a sectarian symbol. A Christian cross commemorates Christians only.
6. The cross has stood for years unchallenged. Doesn’t this mean it is constitutional?
The fact that the Cross stood unchallenged for decades does not make it constitutional. Many factors contributed to the length of time between the cross’s placement and the filing of a lawsuit, but the mere fact that nobody commenced litigation for many years does not “grandfather” the cross. Years ago, non-Christians in the Bladensburg area would have been afraid to challenge the majority (in fact, many still are!) Much has changed in the area demographically since the cross was first installed, and the applicable law has developed as well. Moreover, the longer a constitutional violation like this persists, the greater the harm to non-Christian residents forced to encounter the cross year after year.