- - Monday, October 23, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The campaign to erase the nation’s history continues, outrage following outrage, the goofy replacing the merely ridiculous. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Richmond, in its wisdom has ruled that a 40-foot Peace Cross erected 92 years ago to honor the military dead of World War I is “unconstitutional.”

Because it is maintained with public funds, the panel said, the monument “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion because the cross is the core symbol of Christianity, and breaches the wall separating church and state,” and thus violates the First Amendment.

The marble-and-concrete cross was erected in 1925, located at a major intersection in Bladensburg, Md., with funds from the American Legion and the public, and is now maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a state agency, which acquired it from the American Legion in 1961. The Peace Cross specifically commemorates 49 soldiers from Prince George’s County who died in “the war to end wars.”

Judges Stephanie D. Thacker, who wrote the opinion, and Judge James A. Wynn, were both appointed to the appeals court by President Obama in furtherance of his campaign, described in 2008, of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

In her opinion, Judge Thacker rejected the argument that ordering the Bladensburg Peace Cross removed from public land would set a “dangerous precedent” that could threaten other war memorials of a religious nature, even the thousands of crosses that adorn the graves of America’s war dead at Arlington National Cemetery and other national cemeteries across the nation.

“The crosses there are much smaller than the 40-foot-tall monolith at issue here,” she wrote. Size does, too, matter, she held.

At the base of the cross are the words “Valor, endurance, courage, devotion,” with a bronze tablet listing the names of the slain 49 men of the county, along with a quotation from Woodrow Wilson, the president during World War I, and emblems of the American Legion.

The ruling was not entirely unexpected. The two judges suggested during oral arguments before the court last Dec. 7 that the constitutional question could be mooted by moving the monument to private property, or by amputating the arms of the cross. Amputation was first suggested by the American Humanist Association, the plaintiff, which said removing the arms would “form a nonreligious slab or obelisk.”

Dissenting from his colleagues, Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote that the First Amendment “does not require the government ‘to purge from the public sphere’ any reference to religion.” He could not agree, he said, that a monument honoring veterans “violates the letter or spirit of the very Constitution these heroes died to defend.” Judge Gregory was nominated to the court by President Clinton at the end of his term his term and renominated by President George W. Bush after the first nomination expired with Mr. Clinton’s second term.

Defending the cross on behalf the American Legion, the First Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford said the decision would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We’re not going to stop here,” he said. “If this is the law, everything else is in danger.”

An appeal matters, too, if honoring the 49 soldiers of the county who gave their “last full measure of devotion” is still a worthwhile thing to do.

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