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AHLC Files Second Supreme Court Brief in Bladensburg Cross Case

For Immediate Release


Sarah Henry, 202-238-9088, Monica Miller, 202-238-9088,

(Washington, D.C., August 2, 2018)—The American Humanist Association (AHA) filed its brief in the United States Supreme Court opposing the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (“Commission”) Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the Bladensburg Cross case.

Following oral arguments presented by AHA’s Senior Counsel Monica Miller in 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2017 that the 40-foot-tall Christian cross towering over a heavily-trafficked highway intersection violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, sending a message to any reasonable observer that the government “either places Christianity above other faiths, views being American and Christian as one in the same, or both.”

The Commission and the American Legion (as intervenor) petitioned the Fourth Circuit for rehearing en banc, which the AHA successfully defeated on March 1, 2018. Judge Wynn wrote a separate opinion underscoring the soundness of the court’s October 18, 2017 ruling. On June 25, 2018 the American Legion petitioned the United States Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari, asking the Court to take the case and overturn the Fourth Circuit’s ruling. The Commission followed this with their own petition for Writ of Certiorari on June 29, 2018. The AHA filed its Brief opposing the Legion’s Petition on Friday, citing thirty cases holding government cross displays unconstitutional, and pointing out that the Circuit Courts have been unanimous in finding memorial cross displays unconstitutional, thereby refuting the Legion’s argument that there is a “Circuit split.”

In the just-filed Brief opposing the Commission’s Petition, AHA’s Senior Counsel Monica Miller highlights the Bladensburg Cross’s long use as a religious symbol, noting that it was originally conceived as a “Calvary Cross,” symbolic of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and that virtually every ceremony held at the Bladensburg Cross features Christian clergy-led prayers.

“The Bladensburg Cross was rededicated by the Commission in 1985 to honor all war veterans, but it does exactly the opposite” said Monica Miller, lead counsel on the case. “This towering symbol of Christianity discriminates against patriotic non-Christians who died serving our country.”

The AHA’s Brief argues that the case is not ripe for Supreme Court review because the Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the district court without presupposing any particular result, and instead left the parties wide discretion to explore alternative arrangements that will not offend the Constitution. The Fourth Circuit’s decision also leaves the historical memorial consisting of the pedestal, plaque, and other inscriptions on the base completely intact, and allows the government to retain the concrete monument subject to a modification that would honor all soldiers.

The Brief describes the dire condition of the Bladensburg Cross, quoting recent government records referring to the Cross as a “public eyesore” and as a “safety hazard” due to large chunks falling off and internal water damage. The Commission spent $100,000 on substantial renovations in 1985, and then an additional $17,000 on repair and maintenance, the Brief states. In 2008, the Commission set aside an additional $100,000 for necessary renovations, but its officials indicated that the Cross is likely beyond repair.

“The Commission has itself expressed apathy, and even relief over the prospect of its imperiled Christian cross monument crumbling down on its own,” Miller explained. “These internal statements starkly contrast with the Commission’s public opposition to any slight alteration that would make its exclusively Christian memorial inclusive of all soldiers.” “The AHA appreciates the Fourth Circuit’s suggestion that the monument be modified on remand so that it appropriately reflects the religious diversity of American veterans,’ said Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. “We are optimistic that this memorial can become inclusive of all.”

Read the AHA’s Supreme Court Brief in Opposition to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Petition here.

The AHA’s Brief in Opposition to the American Legion’s separate Petition for Certiorari filed on July 27, 2018 can be found here.

The AHA’s Opening Brief to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals can be viewed here, and its Reply Brief can be viewed here.

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