ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has infuriated Gov. Larry Hogan by declining, for the moment, to join a legal fight against a ruling that a prominent cross-shaped war monument on public violates the U.S. Constitution.
Frosh, a Democrat, sent a letter to the Republican governor on Wednesday, declining his directive to file an amicus brief in support of the parties challenging the ruling. In October, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, concluded that the World War I memorial on a highway median in Bladensburg just outside of Washington, generally known as the Bladensburg Peace Cross, “excessively entangles the government in religion.”
Frosh said it’s not the appropriate time to file a brief and that he would monitor the situation.
Hogan called Frosh’s response a “dereliction” of his duties.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has asked the full 4th Circuit to review the three-judge panel’s divided decision last month that the monument violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on governmental endorsement of religion.
The panel’s 2-1 majority held that, “while the Latin cross may generally serve as a symbol of death and memorialization, it only holds value as a symbol of death and resurrection because of its affiliation with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. One simply cannot ignore the fact that for thousands of years the Latin cross has represented Christianity.”
The park commission believes that “the memorial was built, not by a religious group, or for a religious purpose, but only to commemorate those local residents who died in the service of their country in the great war,” wrote Adrian R. Gardner, the commission’s general counsel, in the request for full-court review. “The memorial has unique artistic qualities and historic relevance.”
The cross has been standing at the corner of Route 1 and Annapolis Road for more than 90 years and is surrounded by secular symbols, including arches and a plaque, that also honor and name the 49 Prince George’s County residents killed in the war, the commission stated. The memorial is adorned with the secular words “courage,” “endurance,” “valor” and “devotion” and President Woodrow Wilson’s statement that “we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest to our hearts,” the commission added.
The 4th circuit panel’s decision drew scorn from Hogan, who swiftly urged Frosh to draft a brief to the court urging reversal.
“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 wrote in a letter to Frosh. “I believe, very strongly, that this cherished community memorial does not violate the Constitution.”