- The Washington Times - Monday, February 29, 2016

An atheist group is challenging a federal court ruling that a 40-foot-tall cross on public land in Prince George’s County, Maryland, does not violate the First Amendment’s freedom of religion guarantee.

The American Humanist Association’s legal branch on Monday filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Fourth Circuit to dispute the Nov. 30 District Court ruling, in which Judge Deborah K. Chasanow upheld the constitutionality of the 90-year-old cast concrete cross.

The appellate brief argues that the cross, which was erected in 1925 as a war memorial in Bladensburg, is tantamount to government endorsement of religion.

“This imposing Christian cross unfairly endorses Christianity while ignoring the sacrifices and dedication of our non-Christian veterans,” Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said in a press release. “Government war memorials should honor the service of all veterans, regardless of religion.”

Monica Miller, senior counsel for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said the cross sends “a strong message of endorsement and exclusion.”

“Every other court decision involving a cross war memorial has found the memorial unconstitutional,” she said in the press release.

The initial 2014 lawsuit was filed against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which owns and maintains the cross.

The Bladensburg cross sits on a highway median, but it is part of a memorial park that includes monuments to those killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor, as well as to the veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. A 9/11 remembrance garden was added to the site in 2006.

Judge Chasanow wrote that the context of the cross in the greater veterans memorial was important in her ruling.

Brett Harvey, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the American Humanists Association is working to tear down the cross “simply because they don’t like its shape.”

“The federal district court was right to recognize that honoring the valor and courage of those who fought for liberty with a widely recognized symbol of sacrifice does not violate the Constitution,” Mr. Harvey told The Washington Times.

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