by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Forbes column highlights a particularly bad ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 1925, a group of citizens in Bladensburg, Maryland wanted to honor 49 men from Prince George’s County who had lost their lives during the First World War. The local chapter of the American Legion and families funded a memorial usually called the “Peace Cross” at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Maryland route 450. It stands 40 feet high. A plaque at its base reads, “valor, endurance, courage, devotion” and the names of the fallen are also engraved.
In 1961, the land on which the Peace Cross sits was taken over by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which pays for the upkeep of the monument and grounds. No one had much cared about that until the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed a lawsuit in 2014.
At the first stage of the litigation, federal district judge Deborah Chasanow ruled in favor of the defendant(Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission), holding that, “The ownership, maintenance, and display of the Monument by the Commission do not violate the Establishment Clause to the First Amendment.”
But the AHA appealed to the Fourth Circuit, a court that was packed with “liberals” during the Obama years. In October of last year, a three-judge panel decided(2-1) to reverse the district court and hold that continued government support for the Memorial is unconstitutional. Judge Thacker’s opinion for the court states, “The monument here has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government with religion. …
… Thus an utterly miniscule expenditure to maintain a war memorial that happens to be in the shape of a cross is somehow an “endorsement” of religion and creates an excessive “entanglement.” That was the opinion of two of the three judges – no legal demonstration that the monument is unconstitutional, but merely the opinion of two judges.