(Washington D.C., January 23, 2019) – The American Humanist Association (AHA) just filed its final brief in its U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the 40-foot-tall Latin cross in Bladensburg, MD, which was declared unconstitutional by the lower court.
“Although there are few absolutes in constitutional law, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment absolutely forbids the government from aligning itself with any one religion,” explains Monica Miller, senior counsel for the American Humanist Association and lead counsel on the case. “This four-story Latin cross prominently displayed by the government does precisely that, as the cross is, of course, not only a symbol of Christianity, but the preeminent symbol of Christianity and Christianity alone,” said Miller.
Today’s brief responds to the government’s argument that a Latin cross, when used as a war memorial, is not a religious symbol at all, but a “benign,” “secular” symbol for the fallen that represents Jews, atheists, and Muslims alike. “But non-Christians are the arbiters of that question and their voices leave no room for ambiguity . . . not only that the Latin cross does not honor them but that, when used as a government war memorial, the cross signifies that their sacrifices are unworthy even of mention,” Miller answers in the brief.
This brief also responds to arguments made by the government and various amici (friend-of-the-court filings) that a ruling in the AHA’s favor will doom cross memorials in cemeteries. Miller points out that cemeteries feature a diverse array of religious and non-religious symbols honoring individuals, the crosses in those cemeteries do not dominate the landscape, and one must take the initiative to visit a cemetery. “Here, by stark contrast, Christianity is singularly and overwhelmingly represented,” noted Miller, “and this 40-foot Christian monolith is unavoidable to thousands of passersby on a daily basis.”
Judd Lienhard, a member of the United States Army and a veteran of the Iraq War, supported this viewpoint saying, “When a soldier is buried in Arlington, we place a stone above their head that honors their memory with the symbol of their choice, whether representing their God or none at all.” Miller also highlights that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs currently offers more than 70 diverse symbols for placement on rectangular headstones, including the Happy Humanist symbol for humanists, and a separate symbol for atheists.
Lienhard explained his concerns with the monument more broadly, “We do not march as a Christian army and we do not fight for a Christian God, nor a Christian citizenry, nor for that matter, a Christian nation. The Bladensburg cross doesn’t represent my service, nor the service of the many people I worked alongside.”
The American Humanist Association filed its lawsuit against the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission in February 2014. After Miller presented oral arguments to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in December 2016, the court held that the government’s gigantic Christian cross unconstitutionally endorses Christianity and fosters excessive government entanglement with religion. The Supreme Court announced in early November 2018 that it would hear the case. Oral argument is scheduled for February 27, 2019. Miller will be presenting the arguments on behalf of the AHA and the three individual plaintiffs.
“The monument only honors Christian veterans, discriminating against patriotic, yet non-Christian soldiers,” notes AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “We will not stop working to honor them all.”
Learn more about the AHA’s involvement in this case and our efforts to #HonorThemAll 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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