First Liberty Institute, along with Jones Day, intervened on behalf of the American Legion at the outset of this case because, as the organization that erected the monument on behalf of the mothers of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who lost their sons in the Great War, they have an interest in its continued existence.
It is a veterans’ memorial. Its shape mimics the gravestones many American soldiers were buried under in Europe. Black or white, rich or poor—the men listed on its base served our country, sacrificing themselves in the cause of freedom. They fought in segregated units, but are integrated on the memorial.
Our purpose from the District Court until now has been to protect this veterans’ memorial by seeking clarity from the courts regarding the law (the establishment clause) used to determine its existence—an area Justice Clarence Thomas has said is in “hopeless disarray.” It needn’t be. It should not take five years of litigation and a four-volume appendix to conclude that a Veterans memorial is constitutional.
Without further clarity from the Justices, we will witness increasing efforts to desecrate Veterans memorials—as in the Argonne Cross or Canadian Cross of Sacrifice in Arlington National Cemetery—and other passive, public displays that bear religious imagery or language. Such attacks will come under the guise of neutrality, but will result in the imposition of a categorical ban on sectarian symbols in the public square.
A more historically-grounded test that protects religious liberty by preventing the suppression and compulsion of religious exercise is needed. Returning the historic standard we propose will allow all of us to preserve and honor the way these Gold Star mothers and the American Legion chose to remember the service and sacrifice of the 49 fallen servicemen of Prince George’s County.
President and CEO of First Liberty Institute
Although I am an agnostic, it has usually been my inclination to respectfully accept religious displays in our public spaces. If my neighbor wishes to set up a Christmas tree or a menorah in the town center, I’m happy to share their holiday moment. Why not be kind? A cross as a war memorial? Well, if it’s likely that those being honored were Christians, again, fine with me.
But now that many Christians have become seriously determined to craft civil laws to reflect their beliefs, and to seek exemptions to our common rules, I understand why those in the secular community feel the need to strictly interpret the establishment clause.
I preferred kindness and mutual respect. But it’s not respectful, in my view, to humiliate a customer in your cake shop, or to post your Ten Commandments in the courtroom where we all hope for an unbiased hearing of our case.