‘Personally Offended’ Atheists Fight To Have Veteran Memorial Taken Down

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Casey Harper Contributor
Font Size:

An atheist group won’t give up the fight to have a 1925 World War I Memorial taken down because it has “personally offended” some atheists.

The WWI veterans memorial in Bladensburg, Md., is a 40-foot cross on a roadway median, and at the bottom has the words “This Memorial Cross Dedicated To The Heroes of Prince George’s County Who Gave Their Lives In The Great War For The Liberty Of The World.” American Humanist Association (AHA) filed a legal complaint in February of 2014 that cites several members of the AHA who live near the monument, including Steven Lowe. Lowe is “personally offended” by the cross and demand it be taken down. The court ruled against the atheist group in November, but the AHA announced Monday it would appeal.

“As a non-Christian, Mr. Lowe is personally offended and feels excluded by this governmental message,” the complaint reads. “He opposes this appearance of governmental favoritism for religion and for a particular religion, Christianity. Because it is a memorial for fallen soldiers who died as patriots not missionaries or crusaders, Mr. Lowe believes a more fitting symbol of their sacrifice would be a symbol of the Nation for which they fought and died, not a particular religion.”

The atheist group’s argument that the cross violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment did not persuade the last judge, who ruled that although the memorial has a religious symbol, the purpose is ultimately a secular one: memorializing the sacrifice of veterans.

Shaun Rieley previously defended the cross memorial when he worked for the American Legion, the group that built the monument in 1925. He now works for the Concerned Veterans for America, but said he does not speak for that organization on this issue.

“To have a national organization like AHA come in and make this a state or federal judiciary issue totally undermines and tramples on the right of those communities to express themselves and their cultures as they understand them,” Rieley told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Religious imagery has been part of our national memorializing process since virtually the founding of this country, so the fact that a war monument would bear an image that could be construed as religious is not at all surprising, not at all shocking and frankly has a lot of precedent in our history. Arlington cemetery is full of crosses.”

Rieley pointed out that the cross was originally built on private land that the state took using eminent domain with the “tacit agreement” that it would leave the cross standing. That’s why it is in the median of the highway.

“[The humanists] want a public square that disallows these doctrines that are not universally held any longer,” Rieley told TheDCNF.  “They essentially are pushing for neutrality. But the problem with the appeal to neutrality is that it ends up not being neutral because it already falls on one side of the debate in reference to how society is ordered.”

Attacks on veterans memorials have become common as anti-religion groups sue local governments over memorials with religious symbols. Groups do this around the country with mixed success, but the groups often intimidate small governments into removing the memorials.

“I’m a veteran myself, and it is encouraging and a relief to see that this senseless attack on our nations veterans memorials have been defeated, and even with the confusion in the establishment clause arena governments can clearly see that vet memorials that use religious images or text are well within the bounds of the first amendment,” Roger Byron, senior counsel for Liberty Institute, told TheDCNF after the original November ruling in his favor.

Now they must convince an appellate judge that the cross violates the Establishment Clause.

“The Bladensburg Cross is an enormous Christian symbol on government property and has the clear effect of endorsing religion,” Monica Miller, senior counsel for the AHA, said in a statement. “We will continue defending the First Amendment rights of our clients as well as all non-Christian service members who are excluded from the government’s Latin cross monument.”

In a similar case, the city council for Knoxville, Iowa, voted to remove the memorial of a soldier bowing before a cross in November because it feared a legal battle with the same atheist group would rack up too much debt. Since that approach didn’t work in Bladensburg, they’ve turned to the courts.

“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, lead counsel for The American Legion and chair of Jones Day’s Government Regulation Practice, said in a statement. “We stand ready to defend the memorial and the men it honors against this meritless attack.”

Cross Memorial, Liberty Institute

Cross Memorial, Liberty Institute

Send tips to Follow Casey on Twitter and like him on Facebook.

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact