C&P Files Supreme Court Brief Supporting First Amendment Challenge to Government-Sponsored Christian War Memorial

Today we filed an amicus brief, in the U.S. Supreme Court, supporting an Establishment Clause challenge to a 40-foot, government-sponsored Latin cross in Bladensburg, Maryland. The brief was prepared on behalf of several secular organizations: Freedom from Religion Foundation, Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, and Secular Coalition of America.

The World War I memorial cross, purported to be a memorial to soldiers who died in World War I. But as our brief explains, a Latin cross serves to honor only Christian soldiers; and “a ruling upholding a purportedly collective war memorial featuring a prominent Christian symbol would reinforce bias and discrimination against nonbelievers.”

As the brief also argues:

  • In evaluating whether the 40-foot cross impermissibly promotes or advances religion, the Court must “account for the perspective of nonbelievers and those unaffiliated with any religion—and must recognize how such religious displays can stigmatize and ostracize that sizeable yet vulnerable class of individuals.”

  • History does not justify the government’s using the Latin cross to memorialize a diverse group of soldiers. On the contrary, “the military has eschewed its use to collectively honor soldiers and has taken pains to avoid using the Latin cross to honor individual non-Christian soldiers, even in the heat of combat.”

  • The Solicitor General’s proposal to allow any and all government promotion of religion so long as that promotion is not coercive would make religious minorities “increasingly vulnerable to flagrant promotion of one religion at the expense of the beliefs of everyone else”—and hence “would be intolerable for religious minorities and nonbelievers, and inconsistent with even minimal respect for religious pluralism and the beliefs of others embodied in the First Amendment.

In sum, the Establishment Clause “must protect religious minorities and nonadherents from becoming strangers in their own land.”

The consolidated cases are The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (No. 17-1717) and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association (No. 18-18). They will be argued before the Supreme Court in February.

The brief was prepared by our partner Greg Lipper, along with a team from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe led by Robert M. Loeb.

Gregory Lipper