By Roy Speckhardt
As you head east out of Washington, D.C., on US 50, a towering memorial appears in the distance. The 40-foot-tall concrete Christian cross is the first thing you see as you enter the D.C. suburb of Bladensburg, Maryland. For the last four years, this cross has been the center of a hotly contested legal battle, as the American Humanist Association (AHA) and its local members have challenged the constitutionality of the cross.
Government-funded crosses on public land have long been a point of contention between advocates for church-state separation vs. Christian privilege groups. That’s because religious symbols like the Bladensburg Cross, on public land, are an unwelcome sight to those who value religious freedom for all. Recently, after lower appellate courts declared the cross unconstitutional, the Supreme Court of the United States decided to take the Bladensburg Cross case, and that has drawn significant attention to the cross’s history.
In 1919, ground was broken for the cross on land owned by the Town of Bladensburg. The project was initiated by the Good Roads League to memorialize World War I veterans. Their intent was to create a “mammoth cross, a likeness of the Cross of Calvary, as described in the Bible.” Donors signed a pledge stating that they “trust[ed] in God, the Supreme Ruler of the universe.” However, given the unveiling of a secular World War I memorial at the county courthouse around that time, many local citizens did not support the sectarian memorial. In 1922, the original committee abandoned their efforts. The cross, unfinished, became an eyesore. The town vested to the local American Legion post the “care” of the land for the “completion” of the cross. The Legion held memorial services around the unfinished cross, at which a Christian pastor led prayer and those in attendance sang the Christian hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.”
Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.