Many graveyards have beautiful, ornate, gorgeously designed memorial markers. Many of these markers are actually quite old as well. Sometimes, the markers are old enough that the land eventually falls to public use and is maintained by government funding.
As a general rule, if the government buys a known gravesite, they perform regular maintenance (especially when it’s an older gravesite). However, in the case of a site in Maryland, and due to whining from a single liberal atheist, the local government in Prince George’s County, will be removing a memorial cross for veterans of the first World War from a once-private gravesite. A decision in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the county’s decision to do so.
The Peace Cross, built in 1925, was a secular tribute to the men who died in World War I built by locals. It was put there to remember the honored dead who died in trenches fighting for nations that we owed nothing to.
The cross has stood for nearly 100 years. At its base lies a plaque with 49 names.
Those names are the names of 49 of Prince George’s County’s veterans.
The plaque also includes the words “valor,” “endurance,” “devotion,” and, perhaps most appropriately, “courage.”
In that time, as urban Maryland expanded, the state of Maryland took control of the gravesite. In 1961, the State Park and Planning Commission took control of the gravesite containing the memorial cross due to how close it was to an important intersection.
For over half a century, the cross remained, maintained and unmolested.
All that changed with literally ONE complaint.
Recently, a suit was brought by a commuter, who claimed that he was “shocked” by the cross and that because of this the city had to tear the cross down.
However, many dissenting judges pointed out, and rightly so, that the result could very well lead to not only the 40-foot-large ‘Peace Cross’ being torn down, but also serve as a legal carte blanche for various other state and local governments that may decide they should tear down memorials on property seized by the government.
Hiram Sasser, deputy chief counsel for First Liberty, a pro-religious-freedom organization representing the American Legion, slammed the decision. According to Sasser, “we cannot allow it to be the final word.”
Further, he pointed out that if the decision by the 4th Circuit Court is allowed to stand, it could impact monuments in other graveyards, including nearby Arlington National Cemetery.
In an opinion for the majority, Judge James Wynn, appointed by Barack Obama to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals after being denied a hearing during the Clinton years, proclaimed that “nothing in the First Amendment empowers the judiciary to conclude that the freestanding Latin cross has been divested of this predominantly sectarian meaning.”
The case, brought at the behest of one ‘shocked’ citizen, was brought by the American Humanist Association.
Their senior counsel, Monica Miller, proclaimed that the victory was a ‘big win’ for separation of church and state, and for the “non-Christian veterans” who did not seem to have a problem with the memorial statue for nearly a hundred years.
The governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, a Republican, has declared that the ruling is “an affront to all veterans,” and has instructed the Maryland Attorney General to support the American Legion in defending the monument if an appeal is filed.
The legal basis for the removal by the state was the complaint from the commuter, combined with claims that funding the maintenance of the monument “excessively entangles the government in religion.”
By this absurdly broad basis, the chapels on the military academy campuses are all ‘excessive entanglements.’ So West Point’s gorgeous chapel, and the United States Air Force Academy’s strange and modern chapel, are both at risk.
So is any other marker or monument with any religious meaning to it, like many in Arlington National Cemetery.
Further, in many instances where the government seizes land (like the land involved here) for ‘public’ use, there is little to no chance to avoid giving up the land. Eminent domain is widely abused in the United States, and the least that the government can do is maintain veteran memorials on land they seize.
No one asked Maryland to seize the land; they decided it was their land. The least the state can do is ignore the whining of one individual and actually maintain the land and the memorial as it was when they seized it for their uses.