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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Meredith

I am a Christian. I am a child of God. This case makes me wanna put up a cross everywhere I go. Whatcha gonna do about it?? SUE ME??

Anonymous

Send them cards on or before December 25 and make sure it has the word "Chrismas" in it - they will be forced to open each and every one in case a donation is enclosed - that will bog them down and hopefully open their eyes!

Anonymous

It is organizations like this that are dragging this country straight to HELL! It's a scary thought to think that these people obviously have a great deal of pull in our government and are successfully creating laws removing our GOD out of even the smallest places in this country. It saddens me to think about what our children are going to have to deal with in years to come.

Roger

I have seen very few men in combat with bullets flying around and seeing your friends die in a bomb blast not believe in God and pray to him before ever patrol. I wear a cross as several of my men did of different religions. Leave us alone! Things are bad enough when my daughter says she can't sing Silent Night in school, draw picture of Jesus, and pray before class. My son still doen't understand why there can't be a prayer before his football game asking to prevent injuries to both teams. I thought there was something in the constitution that said we had religious freeedom like my dad and mom did when they went to school. I guess you and group twisted the religious freedom some way made it illegal. Finally, are you telling me that removing God from schools has not brought in drugs,drop outs and everything else that is destroying our country. We will fight for our country, but it will die because of people like you. It is sad.

Anonymous

Pass this on to your church, co-workers, family, and friends. What do you have to lose but 44 cents, what do you have to gain ----------- more than you will ever know.
What a clever idea!
Yes, Christmas cards. This is coming early so that you can get ready to include an important address to your list.
Want to have some fun this CHRISTMAS? Send the ACLU a CHRISTMAS CARD this year.
As they are working so very hard to get rid of the CHRISTMAS part of this holiday, we should all send them a nice, card to brighten up their dark, sad, little world..
Make sure it says "Merry Christmas" on it.
Here's the address, just don't be rude or crude.
ACLU
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004

Two tons of Christmas cards would freeze their operations because they wouldn't know if any were regular mail containing contributions. So spend 44 cents and tell the ACLU to leave Christmas alone. Also tell them that there is no such thing as a " Holiday Tree". It's always been called a CHRISTMAS TREE!

And pass this on to your email lists. We really want to communicate with the ACLU! They really DESERVE us!!

For those of you who aren't aware of them, the ACLU, (the American Civil Liberties Union) is the one suing the U.S. Government to take God, Christmas or anything religious away from us. They represent the atheists and others in this war. Help put Christ back in Christmas!

Hay

Concerning "The Court & the Cross" We must keep the government out of religion.

Anonymous

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

RONNIE LAMAR MYERS

I will ask everyone in our church to pray for you. The first christ believers were
jews.I hope you are all born again Christians before you die or Christ returnes.

Jleigh

It is hard for me to believe that anyone would spend so much time arguing about something so trivial. Do you people really have nothing better to do than argue about representation of the dead? Why not fight for the babies that are being killed every day "legally" in this country? Why is it so offensive for a cross to be placed by a gravesite? Why not fight to get rid of the offensive sexual material displayed all over this country? Or the filthy language that is so rampant today? How is a cross so much more offensive than an aborted baby or a sexually explicit sign? It amazes me that so much of the taxpayers money or anyone's money is being spent on such a trivial argument. It is all very childish to me. There are so many other ways to spend our time and dollars that would be so much more productive.

Anonymous

What the cross offends you? You mean the rainbows?
Pick a new amendment to entangle in the court system.

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