Western Town Fights For War Memorial

DENVER, CO. Taos, New Mexico, which for decades has honored its citizens who gave their lives in service to their country during World War II in the Bataan Death March, today urged the Supreme Court of the United States to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of war memorials that display a cross and rule that such memorials are constitutional. With Mountain States Legal Foundation as its attorney, Taos urged the Court to grant petitions filed by those defending a similar war memorial in Maryland.

In the northern high desert, bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexican War Mothers, using private donations—the Town of Taos did no fundraising, planning, designing, or building—erected a memorial in Taos’s plaza to honor their loved ones. The Memorial includes two plaques set into a concrete base—one listing the names of Taos County men who died in the Battle of Bataan, on the Death March, or in subsequent activity, and the other listing the names of those who survived. It also includes a sculpture of soldiers sustaining each other during the march, and the flags of the United States and New Mexico. A central feature is a bronze Latin cross set into the memorial’s base, below which the two plaques with the soldiers’ names are affixed.

In 2017, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote the Town of Taos demanding that it move the Memorial to a “more appropriate private location” or defend a federal lawsuit because the Memorial’s cross purportedly violates the Establishment Clause. Fearful that failure of the Supreme Court to clarify the issue would result in successful attempts to remove its war memorial, Taos brought its situation to the attention of the Court.

“The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the Establishment Clause is badly muddled and would be unrecognizable to the Founders,” said David C. McDonald, of Mountain States Legal Foundation. “It must be rectified.”

“We are hopeful that a brief from a small mountain town in the West will help the justices understand what is at stake and allow Taos to honor its brave citizens who endured the Bataan Death March, almost half of whom did not return and whose remains were never recovered,” said William Perry Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Taos’ brief supports petitions filed in a lawsuit by the American Humanist Association against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission over a publicly maintained 40-foot-tall cross that memorializes 49 Prince George’s County, Maryland soldiers who died in World War I. Although a Maryland federal district court ruled the cross did not violate the Establishment Clause, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.