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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Not cool.

So, some of you may have heard that there was a court case recently over whether or not a giant cross placed on federal land as a monument to those killed in World War I constituted a violation of the separation between church and state. Perhaps surprisingly, the ruling asserted that the cross both is and is not a Christian symbol:

Although the cross is "a Christian symbol," said Kennedy, it was not placed on sunrise rock in the Mojave Desert to send "a Christian message." Nor was it placed there to put a government "imprimatur on a particular creed." Rather, he said, "those who erected the cross intended simply to honor our nation's fallen soldiers."

"The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society," Kennedy said.

Kennedy highlighted that the cross in the Mojave had been there for 70 years. Time "has played its role," he said. For decades, people have gathered to pay their respects; members of the community, rather than let the cross deteriorate, have volunteered to replace it. And when Congress ultimately designated the cross as a national memorial for soldiers killed in World War I, that "gave recognition to the historical meaning the cross had attained."

Now, for the record, I actually think that there is a logic to retaining the cross in question. It has, as Kennedy noted, been there for a long time and Congress did designate the cross as a national memorial for those soldiers. Having said that, and without maligning the intentions of those who erected the cross, I wonder very much if Jewish, atheist, and other non-Christian soldiers who died in World War I would really have liked the notion of a giant Christian symbol as their commemoration.* So, basically, I don't think I'm too fond of the court's "The cross is a Christian symbol except when it isn't" type of rationale. Unfortunately, this ruling opens the way for some additional headaches in the future as groups use this ruling as an opening to shove religious symbolism down our collective throats:

Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice saw the ruling as a green light for religious symbols on public land, whether erected by the government itself or by land transfers to private entities.

"If you look at this case, coupled with the Ten Commandments case," he said, "it's becoming very clear that the public display of monuments, even religious monuments, is not a per se violation of the Constitution."

Which is kind of a confusing statement since the Supreme Court's ruling is effectively that the cross- in this context- is not a religious monument. I'll leave it to you to reflect on the protean nature of Christianity's symbology, however, because I have a different fish to fry.

As it turns out, the aforementioned controversial cross has been stolen:

A cross that has stood in the Mojave Desert for over 70 years to commemorate American lives lost in war has been stolen by vandals. Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the religious symbol could remain on federal land; however, some must have thought otherwise.

National Park Service spokeswoman Linda Slater said that the 7-foot-high cross was stolen late Sunday or early Monday after the metal bolts that attached the symbol to a rock in the desert preserve were removed.

And, as you might guess, people are pretty upset about this development. Now, I don't know who stole the cross. Some folks** are suggesting it might have been some rogue group of atheist vandals. And hey, it might have been. On the other hand, it might have been some rogue group of random assholes who thought it would be funny to boost something that there's been a supreme court battle over. I simply don't know who is responsible.

However, that said, as an atheist, I do want the damned thing back, I do want it returned to its place, and I do want the thieves to be identified. I don't always like the decisions the courts make, but the rule of law is an important thing. It is not to be flouted lightly, not least because I don't believe that an invisible enforcer in the sky will sort everything out later.

So whoever the hell took it, put it back. Please.

* Although I have to concede that when in the middle of a war, thinking about the monument people will erect for you after you're dead is probably not a top priority.

** By which I mean Conservapedia who blamed us non-believers in their headline. I find this rather amusing, however, given that on the very same front page they include a photo of the colosseum with the title Christianity Defeated Paganism. So, yeah.

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