Christ cross

The Bladensburg Peace Cross rededicated for Veterans Day


For nearly a century overlooking the small Maryland town, the Bladensburg Peace Cross has endured lightning strike, flooding and multiple legal battles over ownership and location, one of which was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States. But it is still standing and, since Friday, has been restored and rededicated.

People huddled under tents and umbrellas on a small stretch of highway on Veterans Day to honor those who served in the military and celebrate the once-contested cross, built to honor 49 fallen service members. combat in the First World War in Prince George’s County.

“The people of this county first erected this Peace Cross, people fought to keep it up, and now – thanks to the efforts of so many – it will forever be a permanent monument and memorial,” said said Governor Larry Hogan (R). said at the rededication ceremony.

Many of the approximately 100 people who showed up were veterans. They listened as Marvin-Alonzo Greer, head of historical interpretation for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, read the names of the dead, inscribed on the base of the memorial.

The 40-foot cross, made of granite and cement, was built in 1925 and funded by local families, businesses and the American Legion to honor local military personnel who died in action overseas, primarily in France, or from illness, closer to home. It sits in the middle of a busy freeway at the intersection of Baltimore Avenue and Bladensburg Road, just outside the district border.

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For 90 years it stood sentinel in relative peace, withstanding occasional calamities, man-made or natural. The The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission took ownership of the memorial in 1961 and pays for its upkeep and upkeep. Every Veterans Day, people come to reflect, as they did on Friday.

“On this Veterans Day, we remember the 49 fallen soldiers of Prince George’s County,” said Peter Shapiro, chairman of the Prince George’s County Planning Board. “And we remember their loved ones who pledged to build a structure that remains a symbolic resting place for our heroes who never returned home.”

In 2015, a legal battle ensued over the constitutionality of the cross’s existence on public lands.

The dispute began with a legal challenge by the American Humanist Association, an atheist nonprofit organization, which argued that the symbol of Christianity on government property showed the favor of one religion over another and impinged on the separation of church and state. The association called for moving the cross from public land to private ownership.

A federal district judge ruled against the organization, then the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit disagreed, calling the monument unconstitutional and a ‘preeminent symbol of Christianity’ and ordered the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to remove, relocate or redevelop the memorial.

The ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court in 2018, putting the cross in the national spotlight as the high court considered the argument and weighed the fate of the cross – and the potential to set a precedent for other crosses of public land across the country. Many Maryland officials and residents, Democrats and Republicans, have united in the effort to defend the location of the cross in Prince George’s County.

“As soon as I learned that a federal appeals court… had ruled this Peace Cross as unconstitutional, I was shocked and disgusted. And I immediately started fighting back,” Hogan said during the rededication on Friday.

In 2019, the Supreme Court sided with the lower court and ruled the cross could stand.

“The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to just what the Bladensburg cross represents,” Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in the lead opinion. “For some, this monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it’s a place where the community comes together and honors all veterans and their sacrifices for our nation. For still others, it is a historical monument.

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In February 2021, the Park and Planning Commission launched a fundraiser to restore the crumbling and deteriorating cross. Baltimore-based Worcester Eisenbrandt started work this year. The project ended this fall with the new pink marble revealed to drivers through the busy freeway intersection.

Susan Pruden comes to the Peace Cross every year to celebrate Veterans Day. A member of Prince George’s County Historical and Cultural Trust, she marveled at the results of the restoration project.

“It’s wonderful. Oh my god,” she said. “They did such a great job.”

Her husband, Joseph Pruden, served in the United States The Army in the Vietnam War, 1969-72. Growing up in Prince George’s County, he said, he always remembered walking past the cross as a child. Then he didn’t think about it more than “just a thing in the middle of the road”.

Later he saw its value. When the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the cross came down, he was thrilled.

“For a lot of us, it wasn’t about, ‘Is this a religious or a military memorial?’ “, said Pruden.

To them it was a memorial to fallen soldiers – and a piece of history worth saving.