Humanists sue to move Peace Cross - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Humanists sue to move Peace Cross

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The American Humanist Association and several individual plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit asking that a regional park authority cease displaying the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Md.

The suit claims "the massive Christian cross" is an unconstitutional endorsement of a particular religion by government. While the Maryland National Capital Area Park and Planning Commission has not yet directly responded to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman maintains the structure is a war memorial, not a religious monument.

For nearly 90 years, the concrete and stone Peace Cross has stood at a busy crossroads in Bladensburg. On a metal plaque at its base are inscribed the names of the 49 men from Prince George's County who lost their lives in service to their country in (what was then known as) The Great War -- World War I.

The fact that most of the memorial is a 40-foot cross offends a D.C.-based group called the American Humanist Association. The group, and the individual plaintiffs, say a Christian cross does not belong on government property.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said in an interview, "Well, I know if I lived in that town and my two daughters saw that and said, 'Why is it that government supports Christianity? We're not Christian, right?' You know, there's something inherently wrong with that. It sends the signal that not all of us are equal Americans."

The lawsuit asks that the park commission, which owns the land and the cross, be prohibited from displaying the structure on public property.

The park commission maintains the structure is not a religious symbol. Kira Calm Lewis is a spokesperson for the agency: "The Peace Cross was originally -- and always -- intended to be a secular memorial to the veterans of World War I. It does have plaques and inscriptions on it that serve that purpose, but there is no religious language on the cross whatsoever."

Local merchants say the Peace Cross is a handy landmark that -- for generations -- has helped customers find their stores.

"I don't really see what's wrong with it being there," said Darnell House, a barber at the Smith Dream Barber Shop. "I think the people who are [suing are] just trying to find a problem or something. They don't [have anything] else better to do."

Under the rules of the federal court, the Park and Planning Commission has 60 days in which to respond to the lawsuit filed by the humanists. So, we should know soon whether the regional agency is willing to spend the money for a court fight to maintain the Peace Cross as it has existed since it was dedicated in 1925.

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