Frosh declines to weigh in now on Peace Cross case, drawing Hogan's rebuke

Frosh declines to weigh in now on Peace Cross case, drawing Hogan's rebuke
The Bladensburg Peace Cross, as the local landmark is known, was dedicated in 1925 as a memorial to Prince George's County's World War I dead. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun file)

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh on Wednesday declined Gov. Larry Hogan’s directive to intervene in a federal case about the constitutionality of a huge cross-shaped war memorial in Bladensburg, drawing a sharp rebuke from the governor.

Hogan had directed Frosh weeks ago to file a brief about the 40-foot memorial on public property, known as the Peace Cross.


Hogan said the 92-year-old cross to honor World War I veterans does not imply the government’s endorsement of Christianity, as a federal court had found last month, and Maryland should defend the monument.

Frosh responded to Hogan’s request on Wednesday by saying it’s not the appropriate time in the appellate process to file an amicus brief. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing whether the full circuit will review the ruling by a three-member panel. Hogan called Frosh’s response a “dereliction” of his duties.

In his letter, Frosh, a Democrat, also escalated a long-simmering dispute with Hogan, a Republican, over when Maryland’s most powerful officials should involve the state in federal lawsuits.

In his letter, Frosh questioned why Hogan wanted intervention in this case but would not publicly weigh in on various lawsuits Frosh had unilaterally filed against the Trump administration.

Frosh wrote that as the Peace Cross case moves forward in the appeals process, he would “certainly consider your input and interest in this important, symbolic issue.”

He criticized Hogan for not responding to actions taken by the Trump administration “that hurt Marylanders in very practical, concrete ways every single day.” Frosh listed five examples, including environmental regulations, the travel ban, and subsidies for health insurance policies.

Hogan responded with a letter renewing his request and chastising Frosh for waiting until the filing deadline to say he did not plan to honor the governor’s request.

“It is fundamentally inconsistent with your constitutional and ethical duties to the state to wait until the day of the deadline to suggest that you do not intend to perform as instructed,” Hogan wrote. “Your failure in this instance is a dereliction of these duties and a disservices to all Marylanders.”

Frosh’s spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said the deadline was for a review of the ruling, not to weigh in on the case.

Last month, a panel of three 4th Circuit judges reversed a lower court ruling about whether the Peace Cross violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

In a 2-1 ruling, the judges wrote that the monument at a busy Prince George’s County intersection “aggrandizes the Latin cross” and “excessively entangles the government in religion.”

The cross is on public land and has been maintained with $117,000 in taxpayer money.

Hogan, who grew up in Prince George’s and said he drove past it thousands of times, called the reversal “an affront to all veterans.”

The cross was completed in 1925, and was designed and paid for by families of county residents killed during World War I. Families said it was designed to mimic the simple white crosses under which their loved ones were buried in Europe.


The monument honors the 49 residents who died, and it is inscribed with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage” and “devotion.” It sits at the busy intersection of Route 450 and Alternate U.S. 1.

In 1960, a state commission, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, assumed ownership of the cross.

The American Humanist Association, an atheist group that advocates for the separation of church and state, sued to take down the cross and called it an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.