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Hogan calls Peace Cross ruling 'outrageous,' vows to fight

Gov. Larry Hogan called a federal appeals court ruling that a cross-shaped war memorial in Prince George’s County unconstitutional "outrageous" and an "overreach," and vowed that his administration would fight it.

In a social media post, the Republican governor wrote Friday that he has passed by the memorial in Bladensburg known as the Peace Cross thousands of times. He said the 40-foot Latin cross is an "incredible tribute" to veterans.

A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found Wednesday that the World War I Veterans Memorial “aggrandizes the Latin cross” to the point that an observer would conclude that the government entity that owns and maintains it is endorsing Christianity.

Hogan, who was raised in Prince George’s County, identified himself in his post as “a native Prince Georgian.”

“The idea that memorializing our soldiers killed in battle on foreign lands to make the world safe for democracy is somehow unconstitutional goes against everything we stand for as Americans,” he wrote. “Enough is enough.”

It is not clear what role Hogan's administration would have in the litigation. The cross is owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The commission was was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1927, but its board is appointed by Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Asked whether the governor is seeking an appeal in the case, a Hogan spokeswoman said only that "all options, legal or otherwise, are being considered.”

The decision by the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., reversed a 2015 District Court ruling. Attorneys defending the cross offered inconsistent information this week about whether they would appeal it.

An attorney for the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, which is representing the American Legion in the case, told The Washington Post that it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Another attorney for the same group told The Baltimore Sun that lawyers were considering their options. If it decided to challenge the ruling, the group could appeal for an en banc review from the 4th Circuit rather than seeking a hearing in the Supreme Court.

Hogan’s reaction raises the political stakes of the litigation, and could weigh into any decision to appeal. Hogan is up for re-election next year.

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 the commission had spent $117,000 to maintain and repair it.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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