“The question for the 4th Circuit was whether the cross — which stands at Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg — is a memorial to local men lost in World War I or an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion that should be removed from public land.”
A federal appeals court on Wednesday declared unconstitutional a towering cross-shaped monument that has marked a major intersection in Prince George’s County for 90 years.
In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the 40-foot-tall memorial maintained with thousands of dollars in public funds “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion.”
The ruling by the three-judge panel does not mean the monument must be immediately removed from public land.
Supporters of the memorial, known as the Peace Cross, said the decision sets a “dangerous precedent” and vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The question for the 4th Circuit was whether the cross — which stands at Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg — is a memorial to local men lost in World War I or an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion that should be removed from public land.
Even with the nonreligious elements, the court said Wednesday, “the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones,” making it an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment that prevents the government from favoring a particular religion.
“The cross is by far the most prominent monument in the area, conspicuously displayed at a busy intersection,” wrote Judge Stephanie D. Thacker, who was joined by Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. in the opinion Wednesday by the appeals court located in Richmond.
Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory dissented, writing the First Amendment does not require the government to “‘purge from the public sphere any reference to religion.’”