The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that ordered the removal of a 40-foot veterans cross memorial from an intersection in Maryland.
A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit had ruled in October that the display called the Bladensburg Cross was unconstitutional and had to be removed from the intersection. On Thursday, the Fourth Circuit had declined a request from the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission for a full court rehearing to save the display from being removed or destroyed, The Christian Post reported.
The Bladensburg Cross, which is located at the intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1, was an American Legion project completed in 1925 in honor of the veterans who lost their lives during World War I.
In a concurring opinion with the majority, Judge James Wynn dismissed the petitioner's argument that the display held a mostly secular meaning because it was part of a memorial.
Judge Paul Niemeyer, however, warned that upholding the three-panel decision "needlessly puts at risk hundreds of monuments with similar symbols standing on public grounds across the country, such as those in nearby Arlington National Cemetery."
"Because this ruling has such far-reaching and unnecessary consequences, it should be reheard by our court en banc, and I dissent from the vote not to do so," Niemeyer wrote in a dissenting opinion.
"The panel, in a 2–1 decision, will now have the monument removed or destroyed because, as it concludes, its presence on public land amounts to a violation of the Establishment Clause, although no Supreme Court case has ever held that the Establishment Clause prohibits such monuments," he continued.
The lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the display was filed in 2014 by the American Humanist Association (AHA) on behalf of its two members who lived in the area and a third person from Beltsville.
In 2015, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled that the monument is constitutional because it did not have an exclusively religious purpose and is meant to honor war veterans rather than promote any religious message.
The AHA appealed the ruling in December 2015 and the three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in October 2017 that the memorial was unconstitutional, arguing that the display sends a message that the government favors Christianity over other religions because there are no other religious symbols in the park.
Monica Miller, senior counsel from the AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, hailed the Fourth Circuit's decision to reject the full court rehearing, saying it is a "big win" for both non-Christian veterans and the separation of church and state.
First Liberty Institute, which is representing the American Legion in court, stated that it plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Deputy Chief Counsel Hiram Sasser warned that the ruling sets a "dangerous precedent" for other veterans memorials across the U.S.
"If this decision stands, other memorials—including those in nearby Arlington Cemetery—will be targeted for destruction as well," he said in a statement.