SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has joined with 28 states fighting to preserve a historic cross honoring World War I veterans in Maryland as part of a case that they say has broader First Amendment implications.
The bipartisan group of states is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to consider and ultimately protect veterans memorials that include religious symbolism. The states filed a friend of the court brief last week seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that found government funding for the 40-foot cross is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the case focuses on a war memorial honoring 49 soldiers who died but is much bigger than that.
“This Supreme Court decision will impact all of us in the manner in which we remember our history and honor our dead," he said in a statement. "Utah understands that the U.S. Constitution should never force Americans to jettison faith, the First Amendment or our sacred military history.”
Built in 1925 with money from local families and the American Legion, the memorial lists the names of 49 Prince George's County veterans on a plaque and includes the words "valor," "endurance, "courage" and "devotion" around the base.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission took over the land in 1961 because of its location at the busy intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Maryland Route 450 in Bladensburg. The state agency pays for maintenance and repairs.
The American Humanist Society sued the park and planning commission seeking to remove or tear down the cross. A federal appeals court recently sided with the society, prompting the commission to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
“The Bladensburg Cross was rededicated by the commission in 1985 to honor all war veterans, but it does exactly the opposite” Monica Miller, American Humanist Society lead attorney on the case, said in a recent statement. “This towering symbol of Christianity discriminates against patriotic non-Christians who died serving our country.”
If the Supreme Court were to review the case, its decision could impact hundreds of memorials across the nation, including those at Arlington National Cemetery, according to Reyes.
Utah joined the West Virginia court brief with attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.