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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Curmudgeon

I am L.O.L. at some of those frothing-at-the-mouth Christian ranters above. I wonder how many of them are aware of the fact that Jesus Christ was not a Christian.

Anonymous

I once read a bumper sticker said that said "As long as their are tests in school, there will be prayer in schools"
Very wise, you think you can take your liberal ideas and denounce God and everything He stands for. It is organizations like this, that is causing the dismantling of this country. We should all fear the power that the aclu has acquired.

Anonymous

I once read a bumper sticker said that said "As long as their are tests in school, there will be prayer in schools"
Very wise, you think you can take your liberal ideas and denounce God and everything He stands for. It is organizations like this, that is causing the dismantling of this country. We should all fear the power that the aclu has acquired.

Wes in Oregon

It is Very Scary to think organization's like this have any pull what so ever. I am very sad to think this is what the world is coming to. You really shouldnt cry VICTIM everytime something doesnt go your way. People do need protection from Big Corps but this is way out of line!

Sad, Very Sad

Levi in California

In this case it seems to me the ALCU is trying to take freedoms away from us as a people, who are they to say that they represent the USA as a whole when they fight in court to have something our VETERANS put up taken down by saying it's discriminant!? They are disrespecting our veterans here, and they attempt to change the way our veterans believed when they put that cross up. Shame on the hypocrites.

joe graham in s...

What has happen to the ACLU, I thought that you guys stood up for the person and/or persons who's rights had been violated, as a veteran I have never ever heard another vet say anything about someone's religous rights or view's, we knew that was one of many things we had signed up to protect regardless of any religion that someone may believe. It is such a shame that any one person or group can have a say in what I believe, it is a shame that the common bond that our country was founded on and ran on for so many years has become a negative issue for some people and if you have noticed that since this has began such as taking prayer out of schools, and other public areas where people gather that things are becoming worst. To sum it up, we have let people with their own personal agenda's affect the many who do not agree with those decisions.

Anonymous

Leave the crosses alone and mind your own business..you certainly don't speak for the majority. THIS IS A CHRISTIAN country...get over it!!

Courtney

This is a CHRISTIAN COUNTRY! This country was based on Christianity,and as the person who posted for number 35 has said GET OVER IT! I sent the ACLU an email talking about this & you know what my reply is? A LINK TO THEIR BLOG! Honestly, that's how you're gonna face the people who disagree with you? Oh, and I wrote the ACLU back early last week about that & guess what response I got back? NOTHING! Huh, who would've thought. You know what? Try & take that cross out! Try & keep us from praying! You might've gotten it to where my teachers can't pray, but guess what? My friends & I WILL keep praying before lunch.We will pray, we will worship our God, & you can't take that away from us.Try it, but I can promise you this.We will not let the ACLU win a case like the one they did back when there was prayer in schools.NOT ANYMORE!
There is nothing wrong with a cross in the desert.It is not destroying the very fabric of America. It is simply a way to remember those who died so us Americans can have freedoms like the ones that you are trying to deny us! Would that mean that you can't put up a cross on the side of the road for someone who was killed? Honestly,you are over-reacting & I begin to wonder if your main goal is really freedom & liberty after all.

Dirce

I think the ACLU has lost sight of the original intentions why the ACLU was created for to begin with. They have become to powerful of an orginization, causing them to lose site of what they originally planned to try to do. It was for the betterment of people, can they say that a subject like this (removal of religous symbols) is for the betterment of people under the constitution? When they start to try to take all religous symbols down, then no religion wins. I like the saying "Good night and may YOUR GOD go with you." They should be willing to accept all religions and not just be against the ones at the top of the list. They are destroying what is a fundemental right by trying to get rid of the religous symbols!! The people came to the new world to practice religous freedoms, and not be punished for it. The constitution allows for religion, In God we trust!! is on the dollar. Leave it alone, and don't make my decissions for me. I want it to stay!!!

Anonymous

If the Cross is to be banned because a select few from another religion doesn't like it, then why isn't all religion banned from the U.S. altogether? There will always be someone who is offended by the actions of another. Are we to ban absolutely everything? If someone in New York does not like a Cross in say....New Jersey....DON'T GO LOOK AT IT ! I am offended by RAP Music...when are you guys going to get to work on banning it? Vegatarions don't like meat eaters, Non-Smokers don't like Smokers, Peon's don't like the Boss and so on...GET ON WITH SOMETHING IMPORTANT !

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