02/25/2014 03:49 pm ET Updated Feb 25, 2014

Secular Group Sues State Agency For Displaying 40-Foot Christian Cross On Public Land

The Washington Post via Getty Images

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a lawsuit against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission on Tuesday, demanding that the state agency remove a 40-foot Christian cross erected in 1922 on government property in Bladensburg, Md.

Citing the First Amendment's establishment clause, the plaintiffs -- Steven Lowe, Fred Edwords and Bishop McNeill -- challenged the constitutionality of the commission's “ownership, maintenance and prominent display” of the “Bladensburg Cross” on public property.

The cross, located on a roadway median, contains a commemorative plaque with the names of county residents who died in World War I.

“To any passerby, a huge cross such as this can only be understood as endorsing Christianity,” David Niose, Appignani Humanist Legal Center's legal director, said in a press release . “We can all support memorials to those who have fought for our country, but they cannot take the form of a massive religious symbol on government property.”

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, argued that the commission’s monument “fosters excessive governmental entanglement with religion” and prejudicially promotes a sectarian religious symbol.

A 2012 letter from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center calling on the government agency to remove the display yielded no results.

“It does them, and us all, a great disservice, however, to conflate patriotism and religion,” the 2012 letter stated. “A Christian cross does not represent all of the war dead; it is not the marker chosen by Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists, nor by atheists, agnostics, humanists or other nonbelievers. A cross is an inherently Christian symbol.”

Related legislation recently passed in Alabama's House Judiciary Committee, advancing a constitutional amendment that would permit the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public schools and buildings.

"This country was founded on godly principles," Alabama state Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R), the bill's sponsor, argued on Thursday. "That's our roots. We have a right to go back to what our roots are."

In 2003, a federal judge ordered the removal of a 2.5-ton granite Ten Commandments monument in an Alabama courthouse after the ACLU and other civil liberties groups filed suit, arguing that the display violated the establishment clause.

Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court also struck down Ten Commandments displays in two Kentucky courthouses.



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