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AG Derek Schmidt: Constitution permits veterans memorials to include religious imagery

Release Date: Jul 31, 2018

TOPEKA – (July 31, 2018) – The Constitution does not require that veterans memorials situated on public lands be stripped of religious imagery, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has told the U. S. Supreme Court.

In a case involving a 93-year-old Maryland memorial to American service members who died in World War I, Schmidt yesterday filed a brief asking the U. S. Supreme Court to decide that the fact the memorial is built in the shape of a cross does not inherently constitute the establishment of a religion in violation of the Constitution. The brief, filed by a total of 28 attorneys general and the governor of Kentucky, argues that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit incorrectly concluded that the Constitution prohibits religious imagery in a public monument regardless of its nature, context, and history.

“Throughout American history, crosses in particular have been the symbol at veterans memorials for soldiers who fell in battle,” the states wrote in their brief. “Hundreds of crosses adorn war and veterans memorials nationwide, as well as many other religious symbols used to commemorate and honor fallen soldiers. Because religious imagery has been widely used for this civic purpose from the founding of this nation up to the present, the implications of the Fourth Circuit’s decision are immense. Yet properly understood, these monuments are fully constitutional, and indeed integral threads woven into our history and public consciousness.”

The brief cites several examples of memorials around the country that bear religious imagery and therefore could be in jeopardy if the Court of Appeals holding were adopted elsewhere in the country. One of those cited memorials is in Highland Cemetery in Doniphan County. That memorial uses numerous crosses to bear the names of individual service members killed in action as well as to represent unknown soldiers lost in war.

The Supreme Court should settle this case “to ensure a strong constitutional footing for the nation’s countless memorials to our fallen service members,” the attorneys general wrote.

Schmidt said he hopes the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case and ultimately overrule the 4th Circuit. The case is Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission et. al. v. American Humanist Association, et al.  A copy of the brief is available at http://bit.ly/2M65FBH.

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