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Hogan directs Frosh to weigh into Peace Cross case

Gov. Larry Hogan directed Maryland’s attorney general Tuesday to weigh into a federal court case questioning whether a cross-shaped war memorial in Prince George’s County is an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.

In a letter to Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, Hogan wrote that the case was “wrongly decided” last week when a divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found the decades-old memorial unconstitutional. Hogan, a Republican, called on Frosh, a Democrat, to file an amicus brief in the case.

An amicus brief would articulate the state’s position but would not make Maryland a party in the litigation.

The appeals court ruled that the 40-foot memorial in Bladensburg known as the Peace Cross “aggrandizes the Latin cross” to the point that an observer would conclude the government is endorsing Christianity. The cross sits on public property and has been maintained with taxpayer money.

In a social media post Friday, Hogan called the ruling "outrageous" and an "overreach" and vowed that his administration would fight it.

“This monument, as with other similar monuments, has been in place and under government maintenance for many years,” Hogan wrote in the letter Tuesday. “The conclusion that this memorial honoring veterans violates the Establishment clause offends common sense, is an affront to all veterans, and should not be allowed to stand.”

A spokeswoman for Frosh said his office had received the letter and is reviewing it.

The cross is owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The commission was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1927, but its board is appointed by Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Erected in 1925, the cross honors 49 men from Prince George’s County who died in World War I. The structure stands at the intersection of Route 450 and Alternate U.S. 1 on a rectangular base inscribed with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage” and “devotion.”

The initial lawsuit challenging the cross was filed by the American Humanist Association, a Washington-based group that advocates for the separation of church and state. The group noted that the cross sits on public land, and that the commission had spent $117,000 to maintain and repair it.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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