The Court and the Cross

(Originally posted on ACSBlog.)

The Supreme Court heard argument last Wednesday in Salazar v. Buono, an Establishment Clause challenge to the federal government's display of a Latin cross in the Mojave National Preserve. The Court's questions focused largely on esoteric procedural doctrine, and while it's always risky to predict the outcome of a case based on oral argument, it seems unlikely the Court will rule on the broader constitutional issues in the case - namely, whether the plaintiff, a devout Catholic and former National Park Service employee, had standing to challenge the display of the cross; and whether, before it tried to transfer the cross to a private party, the government violated the First Amendment by displaying the sectarian symbol on federal land. (The lower courts decided those issues in favor of the plaintiff in the first round of the case, and the Bush Administration chose not to seek Supreme Court review at the time. As a result, the Court now appears disinclined to revisit those rulings.)

But while the Supreme Court ultimately may pass on the loftier constitutional questions in Buono, Wednesday's argument did have some dramatic moments. In the most heated exchange of the morning, Justice Antonin Scalia peppered Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU attorney arguing for the plaintiff, with questions about the significance of the cross. Justice Scalia bristled at Eliasberg's suggestion that a World War I memorial featuring only a Christian cross sends a message of exclusion and religious favoritism, asking, "The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war?" After Eliasberg responded that the cross "is the predominant symbol of Christianity," Justice Scalia pushed back, suggesting that there was no constitutional problem with the display because "the cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead." Eliasberg resisted, explaining that "the cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians." "I have been in Jewish cemeteries," continued Eliasberg, the son of a Jewish World War II Navy veteran. "There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew."

The notion that a war memorial featuring a stand-alone Latin cross serves to honor only Christian war dead - a notion Justice Scalia called "outrageous" - was echoed in a series of amicus briefs filed in the case by various veterans groups, including the Jewish War Veterans, the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, the Muslim American Veterans Association, and a group of high-ranking retired military officers. However the Buono case is resolved, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to convince many non-Christian veterans that an isolated, freestanding cross expressly recognizes their service to the country. And Congress's designation of the Mojave cross as one of only 49 national memorials (and the only one commemorating World War I), joining such iconic symbols as the Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore, only compounds the problem. As one retired Army brigadier general recently put it, "The cross is unquestionably a sectarian religious symbol that, as a congressionally designated national memorial to veterans, would convey the message that the military values the sacrifices of Christian war dead over those of service members belonging to other faiths."

The U.S. military has always been religiously diverse, from the Revolutionary War, through World War I (when, for example, an estimated 250,000 Jews served in the U.S. Army), to the present (11 percent of current active members of the military say they belong to a non-Christian faith, and an additional 21 percent are atheists or report no religion). But unlike individual headstones for fallen American soldiers - which appropriately reflect the varied, personal religious preferences of those brave men and women, - the Mojave cross claims to speak for all veterans. Surely, there are other government-sponsored, national symbols that can serve that purpose admirably (the American flag comes to mind), without dividing the country along religious lines.

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Don

Instead of all the posturing against having the cross on that mountain, why not just install the symbols of the other religions that are evident in the United States, either then or now? Wouldn't that be a better arguement?

Stacey in TX

I agree w/Mr. Fillmore when he said that the ACLU loses respect for their worthy causes when trying to dismantle Christian crosses across this great nation--a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. I thank God for the good men and women--both Christian and non-Christian--who still remember that our founding fathers created this nation with the belief that we are all endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. But they never said--nor do a majority of Americans believe--that one of those inalienable rights was to cater to every whim of the minority at the expense of the majority. I'm glad that our country allows people to choose to worship in the religion of their choice--or to forgo religion altogether. But I am also glad that we are still a Christian majority. If you want Godless--go to Europe. For that matter STAY in Europe if you find their value system (or lack thereof) more to your liking.

Zelly Kurtlen

INCORRECTLY WORDED ACLU WEB SITE POLL

The recent poll at the ALCU web-site is worded incorrectly;

"Do you agree that a war memorial featuring a stand-alone Latin cross serves to honor only Christian war dead?
1. No, the cross is always a symbol of Christianity.
2. Yes, the cross can be interpreted as a secular symbol.

The first choice should read YES, the cross is always a symbol of Christianity. I contacted the voice mail of the ACLU office in NYC, after searching the site itself for an appropriate email address which I failed to find.

Perhaps someone who has the power to correct this poll will notice this here?

Anonymous

The ACLU is a %100 percent correct. This is not a "Christian nation“. Separation of church and state is paramount, and happens to be in the Constitution! Maybe is in the First Amendment because it is important. To address a few or the spurious arguments of previous commentors;

Not all American traditions are sacred. Slavery was a tradition. Arguing that most people in this country are Christian, so that makes it legal to put Christian iconography on public war memorials is an insensitive and irrelevant argument.

Since most of these comments are written by self-proclaimed Christians, I would like to ask if they would mind if a Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist or Jewish religious symbol was representing their loved ones grave ? You would? Well, that is how other people feel. Other people have feelings even if they don’t share your religious beliefs. Haven’t I read something about “Love thy neighbor?” It doesn’t say love thy neighbor just when they agree with you on everything, now does it?

How ironic that someone brought up the Ten Commandments in this discussion about WAR memorials. Isn't there a little commandment
(The first one, yes? ) that mentions something about “Thou shalt not kill? Don’t Christians preach "Do unto others..." and "Turn the other cheek?” and call Jesus the Prince of Peace?

Another argument was leave everything alone, “because it is in a remote area, and nobody sees it.” Fascinating. So something that is wrong, hurtful and illegal is best left alone, because not that many people see it. Then it follows,according to this line of "reasoning", is alright to murder someone as long as no one, or at least not that many people see it, because the value judgment is based on how many witnesses there are to it. This is flawed thinking and I restraining myself here.

Evolution is beautiful in its diversity. Many types of intelligence, or lack of intelligence are supplied. I keep reading that many people in this country do not believe in evolution. Thinking for one’s self has almost become a liability in this society. Perhaps it is the stupid who shall inherit the Earth.

Cee64D

One of the great things about our nation is that anyone is welcome. This is true of Christians as well; anyone is welcome.

Christ didn't die on the cross just for Christians or even just for Americans. He died to save the world. Everybody.

The cross, to me, is just one symbol of our creators love for his creation. No matter what name you give to our creator, nor what symbol you follow, nor what book you read, that's one of the things most of us believe. Our Creator loves us.

Anymore, all it takes is just one person with a gripe. One person to set the whole world on fire and all they have to say is "That Offends me" and everyone will start screaming "We can't allow this to happen..."

You wanna know what offends me? Hate. It offends me that there are people in this country who hate me because I want to show my symbol, because my government wanted to show it to the world.

So there's a cross on federal land (or formerly federal land, whatever). You can also find a Star of David on federal land, as well as the Crescent and Star. There are others too. I've seen a Native American sweat lodge on federal land. In fact I know of several areas of federal land where just about every single religion is represented. As a Christian, I have no problem with these other symbols. I believe there is one God and since I believe that then these symbols are His too.

Why then is the ACLU so intent on destroying MY freedom to worship? I never hear about you going after any other religion BUT Christianity. Ever. What about MY freedom?

My faith is inclusive. My views on faith are inclusive. In a nation where we are all supposed to be free to express ourselves and worship as we please, why is the ACLU trying to EXclude my faith and my expression of it? I really wish one of you legal-eagles would answer that, because I support most of what you do to protect us from a runaway government, but sometimes I think you pick a fight with people just to pick a fight. Why?

When you fight to exclude everything that makes us individuals, when you fight to stifle free expression so that no one is offended by someone else, you will eventually get a people who MUST be all the same. How is this Free?

roald

Cee64D - No one is intent on destroying your freedom to worship, only on your forcing that religious view on me or anyone else. The only Star of David or other non-Christian symbol you are going to find on federal land is on something honoring an individual or with historic interest.

diane from nebraska

ill keep it simple ,,,,, I am offended by this crap of taking down crosses, not allowing prayer in public, and so on. But that doesnt seem to matter our goverment is protecting those offended by the cross or prayer ect... what happend to our rights?????? they dont exist as it might offend someone!! Why

HopefulUnderdog

Christianity is not a religion. It is a way of life. Religions are just sets of rules that different men have made up based on their personal beleifs and persuade others to believe with them. True Christianity has no rules. Therefore you can not outlaw it. It is in people's hearts. You can't touch it. It touches you. People are just going to have to realize that Satan does not like that and he is trying to do whatever he can to keep people from realizing that through all this petty little arguing scheme cooked up by the ACLU. If our country can't represent the "Lifestyle" it was founded upon then what's the point in living here. It seems all we want now is more money and more power. It just makes me sick at my stomach to see where we came from and where we are now.

lojay

God loves you all. Even when you think nobody else does. :)

Michelle

I think this case is ridiculous! I think people should have respect for the past. This cross (and replacement crosses) has been there for 75 years and represented more than a majority at the time it was erected. As mentioned in the article everyone has a choice now as to what type of "memorial" they would want. I can understand using something different to honor our veterans however, since the cross is what was initially elected at the time and was felt to be representative of our soldiers it should remain. Lastly, I'm sure there are very few of those soldiers still alive to fight on its behalf so I don't believe this is a fair fight. This was never an issue or a problem in the past and should note be now. Show some respect.

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