One hundred years ago, a group of mourning mothers from Bladensburg, Maryland decided to raise money to build a giant concrete cross to honor their sons killed fighting in World War I.
Today, the cross stands on state-owned land in the median of busy traffic in the community just outside Washington D.C., and it stands at the crossroads of a constitutional battle about the separation of church and state.
In fact, the US Supreme Court, which is located only about seven miles from the cross, is expected to decide this summer if the cross is a religious symbol which violates the ban on a government establishment of religion, or if it is a secular piece of history. In doing so, the court may help define what legal test best helps answer these complicated questions about religion and the government.
We traveled to Bladensburg, Maryland to talk with two people who have spent years working for and against moving the cross from where it has stood for nearly a century.
Edwords says he first noticed the cross more than a decade ago when driving through Bladensburg. He says it was right in the middle of town and when he saw it he thought to himself, 'Hey, we’re a Christian town.'
Edwords is now a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case because he says the cross is inarguably religious. As a member of the American Humanist Association, which according to its website, it advocates equality for humanists, atheist and freethinkers. Edwords says he is fighting for everyone when he asks that the cross be moved to private land so it’s no longer funded by public taxpayers. He says that move would preserve the cross history without violating the Constitution.
He says, “We’re not just fighting here for the rights of unbelievers, we’re fighting for the civil liberties of all people.”
Renee Green remembers the first time she saw the Peace Cross as well. She was still in elementary school, driving with her father to a local shop, when he said, “There’s the Peace Cross.” Over the years, she drove past it every day going to school, and marked many community events held at the cross.
Today, Green is producing a documentary called “Save the Peace Cross” while advocating to the keep the cross exactly where it is. She says she has interviewed many descendants of the men honored on the memorial, and that they tell her the cross should not be moved.
Green says it is definitely a cross, yet she argues it is not religious. She classifies it as a military memorial, and says, “taking down this cross or doing anything to this cross—changing it in any way—dishonors the service of the military men and women who serve our nation on a day to day basis and who did it 100 years ago.”
Edwords and Green have met many times as the Bladensburg World War I Memorial Peace Cross battle has progressed through the courts. After working for opposite results for so long, can they find any common ground while waiting for the Supreme Court decision?
See for yourself what happens when they sit down together for the next episode of An Imperfect Union on Facebook Watch.