Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Of Crosses and Constitutions

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

The first clause of the first amendment to the Constitution causes more, to my mind "low grade," trouble than all the rest.

The Supreme Court is hearing argument today about a cross in a park in the Mohave Desert. It seems it's been there for a long time and a park ranger was always troubled by it when he went by. After he retired, he went to the ACLU which was also troubled. The Park Service (or some similar federal entity) agreed and planned to remove it. Some people in Congress didn't like that and passed a law to convey the property to the VFW on the condition that it maintain the property and the cross. The ACLU and the retired ranger sued. They won in the trial court and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, bringing us to today.

Did Congress violate the First Amendment? Of course it did. It went out of its way to preserve a religious symbol on public property by making the property "private." But you say, what about "In God We Trust," all the crosses on headstones in Arlington Cemetery and so on, and so on.

Were it up to me, I'd read the literal language of the amendment and enforce it. God and religion are not public matters and government should keep it's nose out of any matter that bumps up against them other than protecting our ability to freely exercise our flavor of faith. But that horse is long out of the barn.

So, every decade or so, the Supremes will decide where the slippery slope of establishment and prohibition lies and come down at a point they judge to be just up hill of the start of the slide.

Will it kill me if the cross stays put? No. Will it bother me if the cross is removed? Not at all. Will I be interested in the Supreme's Opinion that decides what happens? Nope, it will be tortured and of little or no value in deciding where the slippery slope starts next time around.


J said...

If I am not mistaken Arlington NATIONAL Cemetary is govt land. Do you propose eliminating all of those crosses and stars of david and cresent moons ???

The only reason the congress had to "protect it" is because the idiot ACLU was attacking it. Besides, the point of those crosses etc is not the establishement of a religion they are there to honor our fallen heroes. Would you desecrate their honor over something so petty?????

What a horendous waste of time this all is.

Kvatch said...

...what about "In God We Trust," all the crosses on headstones in Arlington Cemetery and so on, and so on.

On the money is where I find it most objectionable. How crass.

Jeni said...

I agree that those crosses, stars of David, crescent moons and more are there to give a final honor to the person resting there and are not set out as a means of recruitment to any particular religion, cult, sect, etc. And what harm do things like that do to the rest of us in the grand scheme of things? I mean really, how hurtful, how intimidating can those things be anyway? I think too many people want to find things just to be damned nitpicky because someone else places some sort of belief or attachment to something therefore, it must be deemed offensive. We don't, as a people, often pay enough attention to respecting and honoring the fact that as a multi-cultural country, others may have a personal attachment to some things. When this country was formed, it wasn't formed as some try to say, as a Christian nation, per se, but the fact is that those who were in charge of said formation were generally Christian in their beliefs so it is only natural that they placed things -writings -that are now perceived to being Christian elements and that they asked the God they believed in to guide and protect us. And does that harm anyone, I mean, really harm anyone? My thoughts are to leave well enough alone and not to make mountains out of molehills.

Sonja's Mom said...

I wonder if you can opt out of having a cross on your headstone at Arlington? If you can, then I do not see it as promoting religion but a request of the deceased family. There is nothing wrong with that.

It's only when a public display does not inclued the right of others to have their religion/point of view recognized (if they so desire) that it is a problem.

I have no problem with others expressing their religion as long as they do not infringe on my right to my beliefs.

Sonja's Mom said...

And what Jen said too.

J said...

Kvatch - In light of your sensitivity I will be happy to take all of the offending bills off your hands.

Dave said...

First, J, you made me laugh with your second comment, thanks.

As to your first comment and those of Jeni and Sonja's Mom a bit more pontification is in order.

Other than big stuff like out right suppression of religious expression, I don't get excited about First Amendment law. The Supremes have been struggling with it for decades - Google "Supreme Court Lemon Test" (not Sandra Day O'Conner's (I think that's how her last name is spelled) finest moment on the Court) to get a sense of their confusion.

None of you have to worry about my views as I'm not in charge; but, I really wish starting a few centuries ago we had decided that government wouldn't put God on money, symbols on headstones in Arlington, carve Bible passages in stone at courthouses or do the many other things we do that mix government and religion.

As I said in the post my wont is not doable given what has been done; and, as long as they are truly neutral when it comes to putting religious stuff into government stuff, I'm OK with it.

But, I think we can honor war casualties (the ostensible purpose of the cross in the desert) without use of a particular religion's main symbol.

Dave said...

For a more light-hearted look at how the Justices struggle with First Amendment cases see this article at

J said...

Dave - glad to bring a smile.

My final word on this is ( and by the way I am generally an agnostic): To all those who are troubled by such displays I would ask - Is your faith or lack thereof so fragile that the mere sight or sound of another's symbol puts you in jeopardy of losing it???

The Curmudgeon said...

I really do have timesheets to do, but I couldn't leave this alone.

Let's go back to school for a moment.

What does the First Amendment require concerning religion? Nothing.

Doesn't the First Amendment require "separation of church and state?" No, it doesn't. That mischievous phrase originates, if I recall correctly, in a letter written by Mr. Jefferson.

Well, then, what does the First Amendment do? It prohibits Congress from establishing a religion. This prohibition was later extended (much later), by case law, to the several states.

What does "establish" mean? Now you're asking a good question. To the Founding Fathers, an established religion was an official state church -- like the Church of England -- supported by tax money -- the bishops made automatic members of the House of Lords -- restrictions put on those not belonging to the official sect, etc.

It's not that the FF's were against established religions generally (I believe Virginia, at least, had an official church at the time); their objection was to national religions.

How does putting up a cross, or a Star of David, a Muslim crescent, or a Wiccan Pentagram (for that matter) "establish" a religion? Now, grasshopper, you show signs of wisdom. None of these "establish" beans.

Giving direct aid to parochial schools is a far trickier matter and worthy of the time, treasure and talent drained on these nonsense, nuisance cases.

Which should be -- but, sadly, aren't -- treated as such.

Sonja's Mom said...

Let me clarify my point of view.

I am not offended or feel threatened by public displays of religion. I do not object to a crosses or a Star of David in the desert or on the side of the highway. This simpley says to me that someone is honoring/remembering soneone or something they love.

I defend their right to their beliefs.

What I do object to is the "missionaries" - the people who knock on my door and ask if I have been saved, the ones who shove a religious pamplet in my hand as I walk down the street or tell me to "bow my head in prayer" at the opening of a City Commission Meeting.

I object to others trying to get me to join their cult (oops sorry) religion.

I love the Pledge of Alligence except for the "one nation under God" which I omit when I say it. I would like to see "In God we Trust" taken off our money but since thats not going to happen I will continue to spend all I can get my hands on.

Posol'stvo the Medved said...

I don't have a problem with a monument to WWI soldiers in the middle of the desert having a cross on it, as I am sure that there were Christians who fought in that war. From what I have heard, though, that is, or was, the ONLY monument to WWI soldiers in America.

And, apparently someone wanted to put a Shinto temple next to it as was denied.

So, get more memorials to WWI that aren't adorned with polarizing symbols, or allow any and all polarizing symbols on the one. If it's on public property, that is.

From what I heard on the uberliberal NPR, the monument was erected on public land without permission in the first place, but the person who wanted to erect the Shinto temple asked permission.

The lesson learned from that? Seek forgiveness, not permission.