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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Steve

The above piece makes it sound like the government was responsible for erecting this cross, when in fact it was a private group that had it put up. I fail to see how congress made a law respecting the establishment of a particular religion simply because someone puts up a Christian symbol on public land. If this is to be outlawed, then those who erect a small cross on the side of roadway to mourn the victim of an accident would also have to be made illegal when we use the ACLU's warped intrepretation of the religious clause in the first admendment.

LT

It's all about branding. We can't have an American flag because we're only supposed to associate that with liberty and freedom and hot dogs on July 4th. The cross is much more apropos because it filters death through Christianity which says death isn't all that bad since you get to go to heaven. It's the same reason why Disney calls its non-kids movies "Touchstone" - branding.

Jon in Wisconsin

When in the HELL are we, as a Nation, going to get past all of this segregated bullshit? This monument was erected by Veterans in a time when this was a symbol of ALL deceased military personal. As long as there is Religion and Government, there will be no TRUE separation of both. For no matter WHAT Religion a person is (including Atheism), if said person plays a roll in Government, their Religion influence's their everyday live whether doing their job, or during "off-duty" hours.
It is more than past time for, what was once a GREAT Country, us as a Nation to band together and start taking care of our people and to quit letting special interest groups and their lawyers continue to deteriorate and segregate this country into a land NOT Ruled by Justice and the Majority VOTE, but into a land where the many are ruled by the few with the money to over-run the poor and the one's that really do care for this Country.

SEVERELY Disappointed in "OUR COUNTRY" Jon in Wisconsin

Paul

I am not a christian and I think it's ridiculous that the ACLU is making a big deal out of a cross planted in a desert that was put there some 75 years ago to honor our fallen soldiers. I'm not offended, and again, I'm not a christian. I'm an easy going person with a live and let live attitude. If there were more people in the world with my attitude, there would be less turmoil, for sure. There are too many uptight people looking for conflict and looking to impose there way of thinking on other people. The ACLU is also wasting taxpayer dollars by taking this to the supreme court. Focus on protecting our constitutional rights and freedoms instead of focusing on a war memorial!

robert weemes

May God have mercy on this organization because of your ignorance on marriage with the same sex and gay rights.You need to read all of Romans chapter 1. I am ashamed to be an american the U.S.gone down hill since taking prayer out of school,removing the ten commanments from government buildings. And anything that has to do with God that you have taken away. Thats why the U.S. is in the situation it is in today.

Diane Perry

I just received an email from another fellow American who is outraged just as I am. In the email, it stated that the ACLU has filed a suit to have all military crosses at burial sites removed. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!!!!! ARE YOU ALL ATHEISTS? IF YOU ARE, YOU ARE CERTAINLY NOT AMERICANS! IN GOD'S NAME, Diane Perry

SPC FIDALGO

.... i believe in the one true living JESUS CHRIST... and the ACLU will NEVER be able to take that from me... and millions of others... GOD is a powerful and JUST GOD, for those who deny him, will also be denied into heaven.... i as a christian am not one to judge you, but i feel it is my duty to spread my faith... he is coming again soon and i will pray for all those lost souls who are in favor of taking HIS symbols off of public displays, and i will pray for those who wish to take HIM out of our school. Here is a quote from a song that displays GOD's strong love for his people- "NOW THEY WANT TO KICK HIM OUT OF SCHOOLS AND TAKE HIM OFF OUR MONEY... THEY CAN TAKE THOSE WORDS OFF OF PAPER AND STONE.... BUT HE AINT GONE.... HE AINT THE LEAVING KIND, HE'D NEVER WALK AWAY... EVEN FOR THOSE WHO DONT BELIEVE AND WANNA LEAVE HIM BEHIND.... HE AINT THE LEAVING KIND" - RASCAL FLATTS. just some food for thought... and to say there are "high ranking" military officials that support this..... who cares.... im in the military, and guess what- there are plenty of "HIGH RANKING" military officials that DO NOT support any such thing!!! They are called chaplan's... True men of GOD, PASTORS!!!... AMEN.... real men that serve not only their country... but the all mighty and powerful GOD.. and in this day and age am I ever thankful that each and EVERY LAST UNIT in the MILITARY has at least one, to pray for us- believers and non-believers- before we go into battle, because anyone who has ever been deployed should know that if you made it home alive, you didn't do it alone. Its because GOD protected you and he has a bigger plan for your life... this country was founded on GOD... so as the saying goes.... "ONE NATION UNDER GOD... INDEVISABLE AND JUSTCE FOR ALL"

SPC FIDALGO

... i believe in the one true living JESUS CHRIST... and the ACLU will NEVER be able to take that from me... and millions of others... GOD is a powerful and JUST GOD, for those who deny him, will also be denied into heaven.... i as a christian am not one to judge you, but i feel it is my duty to spread my faith... he is coming again soon and i will pray for all those lost souls who are in favor of taking HIS symbols off of public displays, and i will pray for those who wish to take HIM out of our school. Here is a quote from a song that displays GOD's strong love for his people- "NOW THEY WANT TO KICK HIM OUT OF SCHOOLS AND TAKE HIM OFF OUR MONEY... THEY CAN TAKE THOSE WORDS OFF OF PAPER AND STONE.... BUT HE AINT GONE.... HE AINT THE LEAVING KIND, HE'D NEVER WALK AWAY... EVEN FOR THOSE WHO DONT BELIEVE AND WANNA LEAVE HIM BEHIND.... HE AINT THE LEAVING KIND" - RASCAL FLATTS. just some food for thought... and to say there are "high ranking" military officials that support this..... who cares.... im in the military, and guess what- there are plenty of "HIGH RANKING" military officials that DO NOT support any such thing!!! They are called chaplan's... True men of GOD, PASTORS!!!... AMEN.... real men that serve not only their country... but the all mighty and powerful GOD.. and in this day and age am I ever thankful that each and EVERY LAST UNIT in the MILITARY has at least one, to pray for us- believers and non-believers- before we go into battle, because anyone who has ever been deployed should know that if you made it home alive, you didn't do it alone. Its because GOD protected you and he has a bigger plan for your life... this country was founded on GOD... so as the saying goes.... "ONE NATION UNDER GOD... INDEVISABLE AND JUSTCE FOR ALL"

Richard Sacca

The Cross stands for the Majority's beliefs, which if I remember my history, is the belief this country was founded on. Let's allow the minority to rule this country and when that happens watch this country be torn into a million different directions, all to satisfy YOUR wants and desires.

Annerackham

The symbol of the Cross goes way back out here in the heritage of the Spanish and Indio individuals who populated this land, and though we all know the brutality and arrogance which accompanied it, the Conquistadors and Black Brothers seem to fade beneath the broad brush of the Mexican melting pot( If a melting pot can have a brush). What I mean to say is the Mexican heritage of a great number of the first non-Amerind families who came to live here is a point of pride and connection to their past. The Latin Cross is a familiar and sacred symbol to many of them. Granted, as a memorial to ALL those who served in WWI, it is exclusionary and an afront to the non-Christian soldiers, but I believe no insult was meant. I am not a Christian, but I do admire the quiet faith I see in the "old-school" Catholics in this part of the country. They don't preach or prothelitize, and that which they revere is held apart from the common world.
Of course, Scalia is a narrow-minded prig. That's been obvious from the start. He's so convinced of his rightous authority that he doesn't even notice his display of ignorance. I feel that he was personally insulted and reacted thusly.His brand of knee-jerk pontification is such a complete antithesis of the social grace of the gentle, hard-working people of the valleys, I'm embarassed for him.As my ex-mother-in-law might say, "A person here is rude and uncaring." But, that's social discourse, not the high and mighty pronouncemnet from afar.....the difference, I think, between a puffed up, non-justice (just us) and folks who know that courtesy and good manners help to get the job done.

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