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A federal appeals court ruled in 2017 that the "Peace Cross" World War I memorial in Prince George's County violated the separation of church and state.
A federal appeals court ruled in 2017 that the "Peace Cross" World War I memorial in Prince George's County violated the separation of church and state. (Amanda Voisard / For the Washington Post)

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and seven other senators are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to enter a dispute over whether a World War I memorial cross in Prince George’s County violates the separation of church and state.

In a “friend of the court” brief, the Democratic senators requested that the court review a 2017 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the 40-foot-high Peace Cross in Bladensburg “excessively entangles the government in religion.”

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Miller and the other senators — some of whom are veterans — want the cross, which commemorates the county's World War I dead, preserved.

The group includes Sen. William C. Smith Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Maryland General Assembly Veterans Caucus. A past caucus chair — Prince George’s County Democratic Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters — is also included.

Gov. Larry Hogan said that a federal appeals court decision this week that found a cross-shaped war memorial unconstitutional was "outrageous" and vowed to fight it.

Their petition argues that the appeals court’s ruling conflicts with previous court decisions and that the cross “is a prominent, shared civic space central to the communal life of Bladensburg” and Prince George’s County.

“Since its dedication in 1925, the Peace Cross has functioned as a shared civic space — a place for local residents to come together to honor American veterans and work together for the common good,” the petition said.

A panel of the Virginia-based appeals court voted 2-1 in 2017 that the monument, at a busy intersection, "aggrandizes the Latin cross." In March, the court declined to rehear the case with all of its judges.

The senators joined the American Legion and the National Capital Park and Planning Commission in seeking the high court’s review.

Attorney General Brian Frosh has declined Gov. Larry Hogan’s request to intervene in a dispute about a cross-shaped war memorial, sparking a rebuke from the governor. Frosh, a Democrat, also challenged Hogan to weigh in on the attorney general’s various lawsuits against the Trump administration.

Gov. Larry Hogan has also advocated on the memorial’s behalf, saying the case was “wrongly decided” by the appeals panel.

“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,” Hogan wrote on Facebook after the decision last year.

The other senators who filed the brief are Jim Rosapepe, Victor Ramirez, Katherine A. Klausmeier, Joanne C. Benson and Ulysses Currie, all from Prince George’s County.

The legal fight over a World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg is the latest front of a national battle over the separation of church and state.

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