(Washington, D.C., November 2, 2018) – Moments ago, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments from the American Humanist Association’s (AHA) legal team regarding the unconstitutionality of the 40-foot-tall Christian cross towering over a busy Bladensburg, Maryland intersection. This will be the AHA Appignani Humanist Legal Center’s first case before the Supreme Court.
“We remain confident in our legal position and look forward to presenting arguments to the Supreme Court,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the American Humanist Association and lead counsel on this case. “The Fourth Circuit’s decision correctly recognized that the government’s prominent Christian cross memorial unconstitutionally favors Christian veterans to the exclusion of all others,” Miller added.
The AHA filed its complaint in February 2014, challenging the constitutionality of a massive Christian cross owned, maintained, and funded by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Following the December 2016 oral argument presented by Miller, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the AHA’s favor. The court held that the government’s monolithic Christian cross unconstitutionally endorses Christianity and fosters excessive government entanglement with religion. The American Humanist Association successfully defeated the Commission’s and American Legion’s petitions for rehearing en banc in March 2018.
In June of 2018, both the American Legion and the government separately petitioned the United States Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari, hear the case, and overturn the Fourth Circuit’s ruling. The AHA filed oppositions to both petitions, citing over thirty federal cases finding crosses unconstitutional, and highlighting concurring opinions from both Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito. Justice Alito’s concurrence in Salazar v. Buono recognized that a Christian cross war memorial excludes Jewish and non-Christian veterans. Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in County of Allegheny v. ACLU noted that the Establishment Clause obviously prohibits the government from erecting a cross in a conspicuous government location, stating “such an obtrusive year-round religious display would place the government’s weight behind an obvious effort to proselytize on behalf of a particular religion.”
The AHA’s briefs also pointed out that the government’s massive cross is in dangerous disrepair. The government has already spent $117,000 in public funds on the cross and has earmarked an additional $100,000 for necessary repairs, which may be futile. In an email, a Commission official expressed relief at the prospect that the Christian cross monument may very well crumble on its own, writing that “repairs to the structure have not proven sustainable or helpful in the long term” and suggesting the Commission start from scratch. Additionally, recent government records refer to the cross as a “public eyesore” and a “safety hazard.”
“Rather than continue to waste taxpayer dollars repairing an exclusively Christian symbol, the government should use that money to construct a new memorial atop the historic platform that will honor all war veterans,” says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The current Christian monolith fails to represent the pluralistic nature of religion among veterans, and among Americans.”
The AHA’s Brief in Opposition to the American Legion’s Petition for Certiorari can be found here.
The AHA’s Brief in Opposition to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Petition for Certiorari can be found here.
The American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming worldview of humanism, which—without beliefs in gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
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