In a 2-1 decision, a federal court has just ruled that the Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial, a 90-year-old military memorial in Bladensburg, Md.—built in memory of the 49 men of Prince George's County who died in World War I—is unconstitutional. In a surprising display of judicial activism, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit determined the 90-year old war memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
This decision could set a precedent that might threaten the myriad of public memorials nationwide that include references to God, including the Argonne Cross in Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to name a few.
In 1925, a local post of The American Legion erected the monument also known as "Peace Cross," to honor 49 men who gave their lives serving in WWI. It's stood for almost a century with nary a complaint until 2014, when the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit claiming the cross-shaped memorial is unconstitutional. They demanded it be removed or changed.
A year later, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled the memorial was constitutional, since the cross is often used as a symbol in the military of courage and sacrifice. On December 7, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard the case on appeal from the American Humanist Association.
In the majority opinion, Judge Thacker, an Obama appointee, wrote Wednesday, "Even with the nonreligious elements, the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones." The outlier, Chief Judge Gregory, disagreed, saying the language in the First Amendment doesn't necessarily mean the government must "purge from the public sphere any reference to religion." He closed his dissent with the words on the monument itself, "I cannot agree that a monument so conceived and dedicated and that bears such witness violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend."
Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty, one of the firms representing The American Legion said in a statement, "The American Legion's commitment to preserving the Bladensburg Memorial has been unwavering. Their determination is appropriately illustrated by President Woodrow Wilson's words engraved at the memorial's base: ‘The right is more precious than the peace; we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest to our hearts; to such a task we dedicate ourselves.' We are exploring all of our options on behalf of the American Legion, including an appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court."
It's worth noting that President Bill Clinton appointed the judge in the U.S. District Court, Deborah Chasanow, who originally found the monument to be constitutional, as well as Roger Gregory, the judge on the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, who also found the monument to be constitutional, but was in the minority. Former President Barack Obama appointed the two judges who ruled that the monument was unconstitutional, showing just how far-left his appointees are, compared to judges appointed just a few years before.
Once again, cases like this demonstrate how important it is for strict constitutionalist judges to be nominated to the federal bench.
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.
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