The commander of the Hays American Legion post is calling Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a First Amendment case concerning a World War I monument a “big win,” even though it will no longer apply to a proposed Hays veterans memorial.
Three Hays veterans groups — the 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 — joined Oregon-based Patriot Outreach, an American Legion post in California and a Missouri veterans group in filing an amicus brief in the case.
On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court announced its 7-2 ruling that a 40-foot cross honoring World War I soldiers on state property in Maryland does not violate the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.
The three Hays veterans groups support an organization called the Veteran’s Alliance Project, which had proposed a monument to northwest Kansas veterans at the city’s Veterans Memorial Park, 13th and Canterbury.
The 2,000-square-foot monument would consist of five panels in a star shape and educational kiosks. The design includes a quote from the Bible, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
The group did not ask the city for money, just permission to build the monument in the city park.
City commissioners expressed doubt about the monument because of its size and the lack of support from other veterans groups, such as the Hays VFW Post 9076.
Vance Chartier, commander of American Legion Post 173, said Thursday morning the group is now working on building the memorial on private property.
Although that move would negate the concerns that led them to filing the amicus brief, Chartier said the ruling would preserve the Maryland monument and offer guidance for future memorials in the country.
“According to this (ruling), if they want to use a religious symbol in the memorial, that’s to honor those that have served, and in most cases it doesn’t matter what their religion is, that’s just a symbol to remember their service and their sacrifice,” he said.
“It’s good news for future memorials, too, because that was the reasoning for our argument is to get clarification. It shouldn’t be controversial just because you have a quote or some religion's symbol on a memorial,” he said.
“Offense is not a reason to take something down. Shoot, everybody gets offended at something every day. I never thought that was an appropriate reason to take something down, but there have been some liberal courts that have been in the appeals court area that have said that gives them standing,” he said.
The case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, centered around the Bladensburg Cross, named for the Maryland community where the memorial recognizes 49 soldiers from Prince George’s County, Md., 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.
In the majority opinion, Associate Justice Samuel Alito alluded to the use of white wooden crosses to mark soldiers’ graves in World War I.
“Even if the original purpose of a monument was infused with religion, the passage of time may obscure that sentiment. As our society becomes more and more religiously diverse, a community may preserve such monuments, symbols, and practices for the sake of their historical significance or their place in a common cultural heritage,” Alito wrote.
He also wrote that removal of such monuments could be seen as hostility to religion.