By Bob Unruh
Franklin Graham, CEO of the Samaritan’s Purse worldwide ministry, is praising the Maryland governor for his defense of a World War I memorial honoring men of Prince George’s County who lost their lives in the fight for freedom.
“I like it when politicians take a stand for the right thing!” Graham wrote Friday on Facebook. “Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland is standing up against liberal judges who are trying to strip away the religious history of our nation.”
He was referring to Hogan’s condemnation of a court ruling that found a cross-shaped war memorial in the county unconstitutional.
Calling the decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals “outrageous” and an “overreach,” the governor vowed his administration would fight for the memorial.
In a social media post, the governor said he has passed the Bladensburg Peace Cross, thousands of times, and it is an “incredible tribute” to veterans.
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“The idea that memorializing our soldiers killed in battle on foreign lands to make the world safe for democracy is somehow unconstitutional goes against everything we stand for as Americans,” he wrote. “Enough is enough.”
The 40-foot tall cross was erected in 1925.
Graham wrote: “I appreciate the governor taking a stand and I hope the people of Maryland will stand with him! What’s next – are they going to try to take down all the crosses in Arlington Cemetery?”
The Baltimore Sun reported it was unclear what role Hogan’s administration would play in the litigation.
“The cross is owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The commission was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1927, but its board is appointed by Prince George’s and Montgomery counties,” the report said.
WND reported earlier this month when two judges on a three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said they believe that atheists who claim they are offended when they drive by the memorial cross must be appeased.
Judges Jim Wynn and Stephanie Thacker wrote in their majority opinion: “Appellants Steven Lowe, Fred Edwords, and Bishop McNeill are non-Christian residents of Prince George’s County who have faced multiple instances of unwelcome contact with the cross.”
The judges said that “as residents they have each regularly encountered the cross while driving in the area, believe the display of the cross amounts to governmental affiliation with Christianity, are offended by the prominent government display of the cross, and wish to have no further contact with it.”
The judges ordered the case returned to a lower court, which had upheld the constitutionality of the veterans memorial. They said the appeals court was not mandating any particular action such as “removing the arms or razing the cross entirely.”
In their majority opinion, the judges referred to a “purported war memorial” and said the parties “are free to explore alternative arrangements that would not offend the Constitution.”
Chief Judge Roger Gregory, the third judge on the three-judge panel, dissented, arguing the Constitution “does not require the government to purge from the public sphere any reference to religion.”
He said the U.S. Supreme Court “has consistently concluded that displays with religious content – but also with a legitimate secular use – may be permissible under the Establishment Clause.”
“The memorial has always served as a war memorial,” he said, “has been adorned with secular elements for its entire history, and sits among other memorials in Veterans Memorial Park.”
Further, over its 90-year history, it had never before been deemed offensive.
The defense for the memorial has been handled by First Liberty Institute on behalf of the American Legion and others. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is planned.
Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty, said the Fourth Circuit opinion “sets dangerous precedent by completely ignoring history, and it threatens removal and destruction of veterans memorials across America.”
Michael Carvin, counsel for the American Legion, said the memorial “has stood in honor of local veterans for almost 100 years and is lawful under the First Amendment.”
“To remove it would be a tremendous dishonor to the local men who gave their lives during The Great War.”
The Bladensburg memoril has been a target of the American Humanist Association and others for several years.
The AHA, joined by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, claimed in district court that the memorial violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. At the trial court, a federal judge decided the claim was nonsense and upheld the rights of the state to maintain the memorial.
“This veterans memorial has stood in honor of the fallen for almost 100 years, and should be allowed to stand for 100 years more,” Noel Francisco, counsel for the American Legion, said earlier in the case. “We stand ready to defend the memorial and the men it honors against this meritless attack.”
The Bladensburg Veterans Memorial (Photo courtesy of First Liberty Institute)
The memorial was launched by a community group at the time of World War I and later completed by the American Legion to contain a plaque listing the names of 49 men from Prince George’s County who died in the conflict.
The site eventually came under government control because although it was built on private land, the local highways over the years expanded to the point the state thought safety issues were significant enough to take control of the site, which is now in a median.
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