Sunday, August 03, 2008

Christian cross communicates primarily nonreligious messages?

U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns, in his decision filed July 29, wrote "When the cross is considered in the context of the larger memorial and especially the numerous other secular elements, the primary effect is patriotic and nationalistic, not religious" and "As a result, the specter of government endorsement of religion or favoring a religion is not apparent, let alone obvious and primary." This "smaller" 29-foot crucifixion cross, originally designated the "Mt. Soledad Easter Cross" when it was erected by San Diego county in 1954 (which was at the end of the anti-communist McCarthy era, a time when government establishment of monotheism was promoted), towers 43 foot over the top of Mount Soledad and can be seen for miles around San Diego county. What about the patriotism and nationalistic sentiments of non-Christians? Is judge Burns implying that the Christian crucifixion cross primarily represents "patriotic and nationalistic" sentiment for Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and atheists? If so, then the judge is mistaken. Indeed his implied assertion that the cross is more secular than religious for many Christians is also far-fetched. That is just one of multiple falsehoods implied by his arguments in this decision provided that we respect the simple and foundational concept of equal protection before the law for all citizens, including religious non-Christian, religious Christian, the non-religious, and anti-religion minorities.

Another argument behind the decision is that because crucifixion crosses are so popular in cemeteries and memorials such crosses are now primarily secular cemetery and memorial symbols. The judge expressed this perspective when he said "The court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily nonreligious messages of military service, death and sacrifice." This is upside down reasoning. The reason that crucifixion crosses are popular in otherwise secular cemeteries and memorials in the first place is that the Christian religion, whose deity Jesus was crucified on such a cross before being miraculously resurrected, is popular with the citizens of San Diego and the United States. If Wicca or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam were the majority religion in the United States then governments wouldn't be placing 29 foot crucifixion crosses in our government veterans memorials. Furthermore, this crucifixion cross was placed in the Soledad park by San Diego county over three decades before the cross was first declared to be part of a veterans memorial by the county in 1989 (after a lawsuit was filed against the cross). Another skewed argument made by the judge is that because there are no words on the cross monument it doesn't "express acknowledgement of anything". We communicate with symbols, words are themselves represented as symbols, and this crucifixion cross is clearly communicating a message of acknowledgement of Christianity even though it lacks words.

Judge Burns wrote "In fact, in terms of the number of elements the memorial comprises, secular symbols predominate with over 2,000 individual memorial plaques, 23 military bollards, numerous inscribed paving stones, a tall flagpole and large American flag, and a bronze plaque commemorating the dedication of the memorial in 1954. And except for the cross, there are no other religious elements such as altars, statues, religious texts, or a chapel." Turning Establishment Clause (EC) jurisprudence into a count of secular versus religious elements is little more than a method to avoid confronting the problem of the unnecessary government sponsorship of any religious element. Many of the memorial plaques have religious elements also but because those represent the individual choices of the families of the deceased they are not a government non-establishment problem like the single government sponsored cross. Setting a vague ratio threshold for how many discrete times the government must violate the EC relative to how many discrete times it didn't violate the EC in a given setting before the violations are considered to be unconstitutional is an anti-EC standard. For every other clause of the 1st amendment, one violation of that clause by government is unconstitutional regardless of how many times the government didn't violate that same clause in a given setting.

Judge Burns also wrote "The physical setting of the memorial, moreover, neither compels nor encourages religious devotion." A more logical and probably more accurate conclusion regarding "the physical setting" is that the prominent placement of this large cross will encourage expression of religious devotion by Christians while discouraging such expression of religious devotion by non-Christians. Judge Burns wrote "Finally, the location of the memorial makes it an unlikely venue for government indoctrination. Located away from the hub of downtown and the seat of government, Mt. Soledad park is more a destination than a way station." The notion that the EC is violated only if the government overtly engages in direct religious "indoctrination" at the "seat of government" disregards government use of government property to promote or favor religion over non-religion and in this case, Christian religion over non-Christian religion, as also violating the EC. The EC says "government" and "religion", it doesn't say "seat of government" and "indoctrination". The highly visible and prominent location of this large sized monument makes it a valuable government sponsored advertisement for Christianity. That location for any similar sized commercial advertisement monument, including this identical crucifixion cross monument, would probably sell for a hefty price if it was placed on the market.

People who support government establishment of their Christian and monothiestic beliefs like to accuse us defenders of the EC of being "extreme" or even "fanatical" for opposing such biased government sponsored displays of Christian symbols and Christian compatible monotheistic slogans on government properties. So to put this in a broader perspective I will selectively present a few quotes from the other side. Thomas Bock of Colorado, the past national commander of the American Legion, was quoting as saying the victory "is great news not only for veterans but for all freedom loving Americans. It has been a long battle, and may not be completely over, but when good people take on a good cause they will eventually succeed over evil." Al Lennox, commander of the 130,000-member American Legion Department of California, was quoted as vowing to "continue to stand, as long as it takes, with our allies in the Thomas More Law Center, and the Alliance Defense Fund, in the legal fight to protect Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, and all other veterans memorials, from desecration by the abusive legal assaults of the ACLU and others who have no respect for veterans or our American heritage." You will never hear such dogmatic misdescribing of the opposing side as representing "evil" or such incitefull and hateful mischaracterizing of the opposing side as seeking "desecration" of veterans memorials and having "no respect for veterans or our American heritage" from me or from the leaders of the prominent organizations that defend the EC.

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