ANNAPOLIS — A week after a three-judge panel declared a 40-foot (12-meter) cross memorializing veterans unconstitutional, Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday directed Maryland’s attorney general to support a legal challenge against the ruling.
Hogan told Attorney General Brian Frosh to file an amicus brief in support of the parties challenging the ruling, once an appeal is filed. The ruling this month by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit concluded the memorial “excessively entangles the government in religion.”
In a letter, Hogan noted that the Peace Cross in Bladensburg is a memorial to 49 Prince George’s County residents who died in World War I. The governor also noted that the cross, which is on a state highway median just outside Washington, has been in place for more than 90 years.
“The conclusion that this memorial honoring veterans violates the (Constitution’s) Establishment clause offends common sense, is an affront to all veterans, and should not be allowed to stand,” Hogan, a Republican, wrote in the letter to Frosh, a Democrat. “I believe, very strongly, that this cherished community memorial does not violate the Constitution. Your office will be Maryland’s legal voice in this important litigation.”
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Frosh, wrote in an email that the attorney general’s office has received the letter and is reviewing it.
The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the cross violated a clause in the Constitution that prohibits the government from preferring any one religion over another. Judges Stephanie Thacker and James Wynn, Jr., found that “the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones” and that the memorial “aggrandizes the Latin cross” to the extent that someone who sees it would conclude the government entity that owns it endorses Christianity.
But Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote in a dissenting opinion that the First Amendment doesn’t require the government to “purge from the public sphere any reference to religion.”
The Oct. 18 ruling reversed a 2015 district court decision in Maryland.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission owns the site. Hogan wrote that while the commission and other interested parties are still reviewing their options in the case, “it is almost certain that we will be presented with the opportunity to make the State’s views known through an amicus brief.” The governor also noted that the monument has been under government maintenance “for many years.”
The American Humanist Association filed the initial lawsuit. The Washington-based group advocates for separation of church and state.