The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case that could have implications for a proposed Hays veterans memorial.
Three Hays veterans groups and Patriot Outreach, an Oregon-based veterans group, filed an amicus brief in support of a case over whether or not a cross at a Maryland memorial violates the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.
The case centers around the so-called Bladensburg Cross, named for the community in which the memorial recognizes 49 soldiers from Prince George’s County, Maryland, who died in World War I.
The memorial was built in 1925 from contributions from local families and the American Legion. The state took over the monument in 1961 and has maintained it ever since.
In 2014, several residents and the American Humanist Association sued to remove the cross, saying it was a government endorsement of Christianity.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year the cross sent an unconstitutional message of government approval of a particular religion, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Filing an amicus brief in the case are Caspar J. Middlekauf American Legion Post 173, The Society of 40 Men and 8 Horses Voiture 1543 and the Edwin A. Schumacher Marine Corps League Detachment 740, all based in Hays.
The three groups are working with the non-profit Patriot Outreach on a 2,000 square-foot General Hays Veterans Memorial, which was proposed earlier this year for construction in the existing Veterans Memorial Park at 13th and Canterbury.
The plans for the memorial are specifically mentioned in the brief, which also names three other veterans groups in the country and Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady as the amicus curiae — latin for “friend of the court.”
The design of the park incorporates a pentagon foundation and panels in the shape of a star, each representing a branch of the armed forces. Electronic kiosks would provide visitors with information.
An entrance plaque would include a quote from the Bible, “Greater Love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.”
The Blandenbrug Cross case has held up the proposed memorial, the brief states.
“Under current Establishment Clause jurisprudence, one person who views the plaque and takes offense to this quote because it was originally spoken by a religious figure could potentially scuttle Amici’s years of work to commemorate veterans’ noble sacrifices,” the brief states.
“Patriot Outreach needs clarity in regarding what symbols, designs and works may be included as part of these memorials if they hope to avoid a potential federal lawsuit,” it states.
While the steering committee for the memorial, led by Vance Chartier, has proposed the memorial for a city park, it’s possible it could be built on private land, Chartier said in a letter to The Hays Daily News.
“The effort to build the General Hays Memorial is still ongoing and we are in negotiations with a private party willing to donate land in a very prominent place on commercial property where it will be seen on a frequent basis,” the letter said.
In August, the proposal received some skepticism from the Hays City Commission due to its size and a lack of support from more veterans groups including the Hays VFW Post 9076.