Descansos and Atheists

The Galllup Independent reports on efforts by Atheist groups to stop the erection of roadside memorial crosses, known in the South West as Descansos.

Descansos, or roadside memorial crosses, have been in New Mexico since before the state became part of the union, but the traditional monuments have been threatened in Utah and nearby states are filing briefs in support of the tradition. (source)

In Utah, the Highway Patrol erects crosses in memory of fallen Highway Patrol officers. Atheists have challenged that practice as a violation of the Establishment Clause. New Mexicans are concerned that the Descansos tradition may come under similar fire.

I am as Atheist as they come, and I believe in a very firm wall of separation between church and state. However, I also think that Atheists can push too far sometimes.

As the Atheist Ethicist wrote:

It is quite permissible to use religious symbols when they represent the views of a given individual.

I see no reason why a Utah Highway Patrol officer can not be honored in his own way, even if taxpayer dollars are used. If the UHP mandated that Atheist officers be honored with a crucifix, that would be another story, but I have not seen that allegation.

Church and state must be kept separate. However, we don’t need that wall to be so high that it blots out the sunshine of free expression.

UPDATE: Rogier van Bakel blogged about this last year when it first arose. Is he my philosophical brother, or what?

4 Responses to Descansos and Atheists

  1. jesschristensen says:

    I agree – I’m an agnostic and a constitutionista, but I think the atheists go too far. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean there’s NO place for religious symbolism. Especially when you consider that even religious symbols can have evolving meanings and contextual meanings. A crucifix may be a symbol of Christ when hung at a church alter, and yet be a symbol of essentially secular rememberance in another context or tradition, such as with descansos.

  2. Windypundit says:

    Of all the ways for atheism activists to spend their time and money, of all the things they could do to convince people that a secular world is a good world, of all the ways to expend any tolerance or good will…why protest memorials for the dead? What’s next? Replace all the crosses at Arlington with non-denominational headstones?

    What a stupid thing to do.

  3. Agreed. I believe in not only a wall between church and state, but that this wall should be 10 feet of bomb-proof steel-reinforced concrete with a 10 foot moat full of sharks with laser beams on their heads.

    Even so, I think that this is unnecessary and goes too far. Even so, I think that there is nothing wrong with erection of a cross in honor of a dead person who followed the Xtian faith.

    (heh heh, I said “erection”)

  4. Windypundit says:

    You are such a dork.

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