Supreme Court is Last Hope for Saving Peace Cross

Medal of Honor recipient and Marine Captain Henry Lewis Hulbert (left) and African-American soldier, Private John Henry Seaburn, Jr., are two of the 49 fallen veterans honored by the Bladensburg World War I Memorial Cross that atheists want defaced or destroyed in a case on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. ( photo)

It’s official. The Bladensburg Cross veterans’ memorial and its advocates will have a day in court before the Justices of the United States; one hour, to be precise.

It is the last hope for saving the “Peace Cross” from atheist plans to have it defaced or razed altogether.

The United States Supreme Court has slated a hearing for oral arguments, though it is not scheduled for a certain date yet.

Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute, Roger Byron, tasked with representing the American Legion veterans group that built the cross 100 years ago, explained that case briefs are to be filed representing both sides.

“The American Legion, which we represent, and the Maryland Parks Commission will file their briefs first, and the due date on that is December 17,” Byron said.

“After that, the American Humanist Association will be given a date that they will file their response briefs by,” he added.

“Our side will have an opportunity to file response briefs after that, then a date will be scheduled for oral arguments, probably in February or March.”

Roger Byron is the leading attorney with the First Liberty Institute representing the American Legion against an atheist group’s case to deface or destroy the Bladensburg Veterans’ Memorial Cross. ( photo)

The American Humanist Association is the plaintiff in the case, claiming the cross is a violation of the separation of church and state.

Byron said that the filing process is standard, and both sides understand that they should be done with written briefs in time for a February date in case that’s when their hearing is slated.

The oral arguments take place before the full panel of Supreme Court justices, and both sides typically answer questions by justices for about 30 minutes each.

“If you have ever participated in an oral-argument session, you would see that the one-hour timeframe is typical,” he said.

Byron agreed that the stakes are high, and that you can never take for granted what the result will be for sure.

“The Supreme Court is the last hope for saving this 100-year-old memorial to our veterans’ sacrifices, these 49 men who died from battle in World War I,” he said.

“There is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about this memorial,” he added. “Americans should honor their fallen veterans.”

The supreme court is the last hope for saving this 100-year-old memorial to our veterans

Byron pointed out that the memorial was built on private land using private funds.

Many of the ten gold-star mothers and 49 families over-all looked to the cross and grounds as their only equivalent to a grave in America: a place to honor and remember their departed loved ones.

Interment of fallen servicemen’s remains from World War I typically took place in Europe.

Instead of 49 crosses in a cemetery, the local families of Prince George’s County chose a taller, single cross.

Years later, the county wanted to link several roadways into a safer interchange that would incorporate the grounds area where the cross stands.

“The American Legion vacated the property with the understanding that they would continue to have access to the cross,” Byron said.

“They understood that they specifically would continue to conduct ceremonies there each Veterans Day, which is this weekend, and Memorial Day, and that’s what they have done for 100 years.”

Byron said that he is cautiously optimistic in a favorable decision because the arguments for defacing or destroying a veterans’ memorial make no sense.

“I am confident that the Supreme Court will make the right decision here,” he said.

Byron’s law practice focuses on religious liberty matters and the First Amendment. In the Constitutional arena, his experience covers freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal access, religious land use and church autonomy.

In The American Legion et al. v. American Humanist Association et al, the American Legion is asking the Justices to reverse the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court’s decision against the Bladensburg memorial.

That case is combined with an identical case filed by Maryland-National Capital Park.



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