Sunday, April 10, 2016

Does a WWI memorial violate the Establishment Clause?

            Religious symbols have always been a topic for dispute, not only within one religion, but also between differing religious groups. More often than not, these religious symbols will be taken by a group and made into some sort of monument or sculpture, and are often erected in order to honor a particular individual or group. This is the case in Bladensburg, Maryland, home to a World War I memorial.
            According to The Christian Post, in 1925, a memorial monument was erected in Bladensburg, Maryland in order to honor those who had fought and died during the war. The creation of this monument was the idea of survivors of the war, as well as family members of those who had died. These veterans and family members contacted the American Legion in 1919, and six years later, the monument, which is in the shape of a cross, was built. In addition, the American Legion is the largest veterans service organization within the United States. However, The American Humanist Association, an atheist group, finds the monument to be in violation of the Establishment Clause, and
thus has filed a lawsuit asking for the cross to be altered, demolished or removed.
            Now, members of the American Legion and First Liberty Institute, are attempting to protect the monument by offering reasons that the cross is not in fact a symbol of religion in this case. In fact, the CEO of First Liberty Institute points out that while the cross is widely associated with Christianity, it is not solely a symbol for this religion. Upon further research, it may be stated that the cross is also a symbol within the Pagan religion and the Wiccan religion; thus, associating this memorial to only Christianity is merely an assumption. In addition, the monument does not display any favoritism towards any one religion; there are no biblical verses, and no symbols of Christianity or any other religion. All that decorates the cross is the US emblem and the word “Valor”. Thus, it may be assumed that The American Humanist Association wishes to demolish the memorial simply because it is in the shape of a cross. The premise of this case is very similar to that of Van Orden v. Perry.
            In Van Orden v. Perry, a monument similar to the one in Bladensburg, Maryland was under scrutiny; however, where the monument in Van Orden v. Perry differs from that of Bladensburg is that it has the Ten Commandments written out on the monument in plain text, which obviously affiliates the structure with both Christianity and Judaism- thus placing favoritism of particular religions over another. However, it was the decision of the court that the monument in Van Orden v. Perry, was not in violation of the Establishment Clause, and while many disagreed with the decision within this case, it does differ from the monument in Maryland. In addition, the court in Van Orden v. Perry failed to use the Lemon Test in order to determine whether or not the monument had a secular purpose, (and it did in fact have a secular purpose). Due to the fact that it may be determined that the court failing to use the Lemon Test is unfair to both parties within Van Orden v. Perry, it may be said that using pieces of the Lemon Test to further decide on the issue in Maryland may be useful.
            First and foremost, it is quite clear that the monument in Maryland did in fact have a secular purpose; to honor the residents of Bladensburg, Maryland who had fought and died during World War I. Secondly, while the monument is in the shape of a cross, it does not merely represent Christianity, thus it is not advancing nor is it inhibiting religion. Thirdly, the monument is on government property, and as a result, does foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. However, it may be argued that The American Humanist Association is not taking into account the time period in which this structure was erected and the purpose for which is was created.
            This memorial was created in order to honor those who had fought and died for the freedom, which many Americans take for granted everyday. Being the mother, father, wife or child of one of these brave men must have been heartbreaking, and having a structure made in order to honor their ultimate sacrifice was comforting, unintended to represent one religion over another. It is also important to note that the cross is internationally recognized as a symbol honoring men who had given their lives during World War I.

            All in all, this memorial does not violate the Establishment Clause, and should not be removed or demolished.


Rebecca J said...

While I agree that the veterans monument may have a secular purpose and is not specifically intended to endorse religion, I think the fact that the monument was constructed by a government sponsored organization maintains the threat to the establishment clause in this case The organization that sponsored and constructed the sign, the American Legion, is a federally founded organization. The monument containing the cross is being constructed by a group that was created and maintained directly by the government. Because of this, the monument containing the cross could be perceived as a government endorsement of religion. This is different than Van Orden v. Perry because the 10 commandments monument in that case was donated by the Fraternal Order of the Eagle, which is a privately sponsored organization. While the monument was on federal property, it was completely constructed by a private organization, which greatly lessens the threat of a government established religion. In the present case, not only is taxpayer money being used to maintain the monument, but the monument itself was created by a group that is ultimately an extension of the government. Therefore, this monument creates a threat the government endorsing religion, even if the monument has other secular purposes.

Matthew L. said...

I agree with your post that this cross has a clear secular purpose that must be considered when viewing the cross. Furthermore, I believe the point that you make at the end of the post that states the cross is international symbol of those who lost their lives in World War I. This point only furthers the argument that this cross was erected not as a religious symbol; but rather, as a simple memorial for those who had given all that they could. In regards to Rebecca's comment, the American Legion does not operate in the way you believe. Officially, it is recognized as a "federally chartered organization", meaning that yes, Congress has recognized the organization, as a way of thanking them for their service to veterans and those who still serve. However, Congress has merely recognized them, but this is simply a symbolic relationship, meaning the relationship does not extend beyond in name only. The American Legion is self-funded, and runs itself, the only interaction that it has with the government is that it must submit its year-end financial report. However, the government does not take action on these reports, nor does it provide money to the organization. Therefore, I believe that this monument is not a violation of any First Amendment rights to any citizen; but rather, just an acknowledgement to those who sacrificed, as recognized by an organization who was founded to do so.

Samantha Woolford said...

I agree with the points you made about the cross having a secular purpose, which is honoring the men who died for this country. In addition, the cross has been associated with Christianity, because of the ties it shares with Jesus. However, the cross is not religious in of itself. Jesus was not the only person to have died on the cross, and just because the Christian faiths have taken it as one of their many symbols, does not make the cross itself religious. Over many years, the cross has become a symbol also for people that have died. It only seems fitting that a large monument of a cross be placed in honor of the men who died fighting for America. The monument also does not have any religious sayings, pictures, etc. I don't believe that this could be considered an establishment of religion.

Thomas M. said...

I agree with your argument that the cross, while commonly connected with christianity, is not necessarily always representative of a christian belief. Crucifixion is a punishment that predates Jesus, and the cross became a symbol due to his death on it. The swastika is an ancient religious symbol for beliefs such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and the Nazi party used it for a secular purpose. Obviously, Christianity is very different from the Nazi party but the secular and religious distinction is still there. Since the cross does not have any indication of leaning toward christian beliefs besides it being a cross, I would not view this as a violation of the establishment clause.

Richard Shin said...

I agree with your comment that the cross is not always representing Christian belief. In the article the cross is secularized due to the fact that the monument does not promote religion. The cross was made in order to respect the people who died. Many symbols throughout history have been secularized for example Santa Claus. Santa Claus has been secularized due to the fact that when people think of Christmas it is more about buying gifts rather than celebrating the birth of Jesus. Santa Claus represents the marketing of stores and businesses rather than the birth of Jesus.

Lauren Caldas said...

Due to the fact that the monument is on government property, this does impose a threat of endorsing religion. Although the cross could be seen as a secular symbol, it is strongly related to the Christian faith and does have some sort of religious connotation whether it is explicitly stated or not. The government is endorsing this monument and the upkeep of it as well. Due to this entanglement, the monument can be seen as an establishment of religion.