Not every crucifix should be a thorn in an atheist’s eye.

You don’t need to read this blawg for very long to figure out that I, for one, am a rabid atheist. I have little tolerance for those who try and push their superstitious agenda on to others by hijacking the instrumentalities of the state. I am even more concerned about it when it is done by those who want to push a set of superstitions built around a story of a magic space zombie jew. I am a proud member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

But sometimes I just shake my head when I see the cases taken up by my free-thought brothers and sisters.

In a current case before the Supreme Court, the ACLU brought a suit against the federal government:

At issue is a cross that sits atop Sunrise Rock in a remote part of the Mojave National Preserve in California, not far from the border with Nevada. Since 1934 the cross has been there, in one form or another, as a war memorial. Different court documents refer to it as 5 to 8 feet tall.

A decade ago it came under legal attack from a former National Park Service employee who, though a Catholic, thought it was inappropriate to favor one religion over another in the preserve. The park service had turned down a request to have a Buddhist symbol erected nearby.

A federal judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the stand-alone display of the cross was unconstitutional and that Congress’ move to transfer land to the VFW did not solve the problem. (source)

On purely legal grounds, I agree with the 9th Circuit. The government has played this game more than once — where some christian nut gets a little bit of power, puts a christian display up on government property, and when challenged, the government just “sells” a few square feet of property to a private entity, then smugly says “its on private property.” This is bullshit. On legal grounds, the cross should be torn down.

On the other hand, this thing is out in the middle of nowhere, means nothing to anyone except a few old men in their American Legion regalia. The Mount Soledad Cross, that’s another story. It looms over the city of San Diego like a thumb in Thomas Jefferson’s eye. But seriously, cases like this really don’t need to be brought. There are real battles to be fought to keep that wall of separation strong and well-maintained. This crucifix in the middle of the desert wasn’t so much as moss on that wall, let alone a crack.

20 Responses to Not every crucifix should be a thorn in an atheist’s eye.

  1. Nile says:

    I’m with you. Fight blue laws, not crosses!

    Or something.

  2. Nile says:

    Um, I just changed my mind in two minutes, after having read this:

    “The cross doesn’t honor non-Christians who fought in the war?” Scalia asks, stunned.

    “A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins,” replies Eliasberg, whose father and grandfather are both Jewish war veterans.

    “It’s erected as a war memorial!” replies Scalia. “I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of … of … of the resting place of the dead.”

    Eliasberg dares to correct him: “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”

    “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead the cross honors are the Christian war dead,” thunders Scalia. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion!”

    So maybe this kinda stuff -is- important, if the Supreme Court doesn’t understand that crosses actually are specific to one religion.


    • Oh, they understand… and I am with you.

      Scalia is, however, just a wee bit shall we say “logically flexible” when it comes to protecting his magic space zombie jew superstitions.

      I think that they could have brought this case with better facts… thats all.

  3. Windypundit says:

    It’s one thing to stop governments from shoving religion down kids’ throats or spending public funds on religious icons, but some establishment clause cases seem like the plaintiffs were just trying to piss off a bunch of Christians.

  4. Todd says:

    As a fellow rabid atheist, I’m with you on this one. This is not a case of sky fairy grovelers shoving their beliefs down everyone’s throats. It hurts no one who isn’t out looking to be hurt.

    I’d be stoked if that monstrosity over San Diego was torn down though, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to build a wall around the Disneyland-style Mormon temple, either, for that matter.

  5. Eli says:

    As a 1L and atheist myself, I was a bit thrown off by this case when I read about it this morning. While the side of me that hates watching my country turn into a Christian Theo-Idiocracy thinks this is somewhat offensive, another side of me sees that this cross was put up in a much different time than today, where even those who had no religion could still respect its presence when it was not being forced down their throats. Is it slightly unfair to the memories of the Jewish and Atheist soldiers? Possibly. Is it a nice tribute to the dead, regardless of their faith? Yes. Is Scalia being kind of a douche in his opinion? Unquestionably, and unsurprisingly, yes.

    Let the VFW have the land. The Plaintiffs in this case aren’t doing any favors to us atheists who aren’t zealots. To me, atheism has always been about religion leaving me alone. Can’t we afford the same courtesy for something as inoffensive as this cross, whose intent isn’t ministry and conversion, but a tribute to the dead? Seriously.

    • Well, I don’t think that the VFW should get the land… THAT is the part of the case that I agree needs to be figured out. That’s how the shitheads in San Diego circumvented the court’s ruling.

      But, your main point is totally right. Pick and choose the battles you fight. This one could have, and should have, been left alone.

      I don’t want Atheists acting like the Soviets, trying to remove every crucifix from our vision like the Soviets scrubbed every building of the names of its disfavored leaders.

      • Jack B. says:

        I don’t want Atheists acting like the Soviets, trying to remove every crucifix from our vision like the Soviets scrubbed every building of the names of its disfavored leaders.

        I tend to describe myself as an “apathetic atheist”, because I just can’t seem to work up any anger or indignation when I see nativity displays on government property.

        But yeah, the land deals that make these religious displays possible are more bothersome than the crosses themselves.

        Locally, there is a Passion Play produced every Easter Sunday at one of our local parks. A local atheist discovered that the crosses were owned and maintained by the city parks department, so he filed a lawsuit. (This caused a real shitstorm in the local press, since this happened in Corpus Christi, TX).

        Surprisingly, our city council decided not to fight the lawsuit and put the crosses up for auction. The atheist who filed the suit bid $666.00 on them.

        A local greasy spoon restaurant wound up with the winning bid and subsequently changed their name to “Floyd’s Christian Restaurant”, which leads to jokes about “I don’t like eating there because of all the lions roaming around” and “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it… Christians don’t taste that bad”.

  6. I agree completely, these cases are lose-lose situations for all involved.

    It did, however, allow us to better understand Scalia’s “unique” views on the nonreligious aspects of a cross.

  7. Jo says:

    Atheist San Diegan here. I drive past the small, distant Mount Soledad cross every day. Two minutes later I pass the Big Fucking Enormous White Mormon Crazy-Land Palace of Gays Are Evil that practically sits on top of the freeway. The cross is unconstitutional, but it’s a war monument and it’s really not that noticeable. Last November the far-religious right demonstrated its ability to control the referendum process in this state with its fear money. Civil rights matter more than symbolism. Californians and the ACLU have bigger fish to fry.

    Or bigger La Jolla seals to fry, as it were.

    • I’m not sure that the cross on Mt. Soledad is a “war memorial.” It was an “Easter Cross” until someone asked “why is there an Easter Cross on public land?” As far as it not being that noticeable, try living underneath it!!!

      • Jo says:

        Ah- you’re right. It didn’t become part of the Korean War Monument until 1998 and the first lawsuit was filed in 1989.

        Living underneath it makes a difference. I meant for most San Diegans…but I see your point.

  8. Davis says:

    My Civil Procedure professor brought this case up during class the other day because of the standing question also at stake in this (though more likely because he’s helping the ACLU with that question in this case). Since the current case arose from a separate action to enforce the injunction granted in a separate case, Buono v. Norton, wouldn’t ruling against Buono on standing grounds here amount to a collateral attack on that judgment?

    I haven’t had the chance to look for more info on this case. Did anyone happen to get the dirty details and if so, how did the standing part of the argument seem to go?

  9. blueollie says:

    Oddly enough, other religious people might care more than an atheist.

    A cross? To me it may as well be a symbol such as the Star of David, or whatever symbol Zeus, Thor, Wotan or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster has. It means nothing to me.

    But to someone of another faith, it can mean blasphemy (imagine a Christian buried under, say, some symbol of Satan).

  10. […] Speech: here is a thoughtful post on a case that is before the Supreme Court: On purely legal grounds, I agree with the 9th Circuit. The government has played this game more […]

  11. TomMil says:

    Chief Justice Roberts’ last question to the ACLU attorney: “ “Counsel, this probably doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but I’m just kind of curious, why is this cross put up in the middle of nowhere?”

    Could it be that those who erected it knew that it was likely an unconstitutional use of public property? And if so, doesn’t that put a different spin on the entire “this thing is out in the middle of nowhere, means nothing to anyone except a few old men in their American Legion regalia.” position? I cannot claim any expertise, but more than a few have said this cross is more of a symbol of a different age. Do they mean an age when religious use of public land was more acceptable? If so, where are all the religious symbols on public land from days gone by. Did I miss the cleansing?

    BTW: I am new to this site, Glenn Beck’s alleged crimes of the 90’s brought me here and now, I believe I’ll be returning daily. Good stuff!

    • Could it be that those who erected it knew that it was likely an unconstitutional use of public property?

      I don’t think so, since it was put up in 1934 — a time when almost nobody would have bitched. I’m sure that the intent was to merely honor the war dead.

      On the other hand, recent displays on public property are usually imbued with a good streak of culture warrior bullshit.

      I just think that the Lemon test ought to have a “historical remnant” caveat. Either that, or Atheists ought to have a “code of ethics” when it comes to challenging religious displays.

      I’d say to leave well enough alone if the display is:

      1) More than a generation old; and,
      2) Erected with good intent, and not intended to promote any particular religion, even if that lack of intent was due to naiveté on the part of those who put it there; and,
      3) Either
      a) Not really obtrusive (as in, you have to hike through a desert to find it); or,
      b) Of genuine historical significance (e.g. the Old North Church in Boston); or,
      c) If the removal would require either historical revisionism or a significant change in tradition. For example, changing the symbol of Las Cruces, New Mexico or the name of San Francisco or San Diego to a “secular” name.

      As atheist as I am, and as hostile as I am to the culture warriors who want to shove magic space zombie jewdom down my throat, I think that this would be a good guide to “leaving well enough alone” when it comes to religious displays on public property, funded by public money, or other matters that might violate the First Amendment.

      Lets pick and choose our battles wisely.

  12. Harry D. Mauron says:

    Why not just force the Park Service to sell an acre of park to whomever wants to buy it, subject to deed restrictions to keep development to non-commercial monuments? Last I heard, the Feds could use some cash.

  13. […] rights when a prosecutor wears a small cross necklace during a trial. Marc Randazza calls for a little perspective. And John Kindley had a rather blunt, but honest, appraisal of Justice Scalia’s performance in […]

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