08 October 2009

Supremes Hear Challenge to Mojave Cross

Eight foot high cross on Sunrise Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve. Below, cross is covered during court fight. Lower photo by Eric Reed.

Veterans' memorial at Mojave National Preserve:
Supreme Court hears challenge to eight-foot cross
The ACLU argued that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and should not be treated as a single, favored religious symbol.
By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / October 8, 2009

An 8 foot cross has stood atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve since 1934. It was supposedly erected to honor America's soldiers in World War I. But is it really proper to erect a religious symbol in a National Preserve or Park, especially since the Park Service turned down a request to erect a Buddhist monument nearby?

That is the question that was being discussed by the United States Supreme Court yesterday. A former National Park Service employee felt it was inappropriate for the National Preserve to favor one religion over others, and took the matter to court. A federal judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the display was unconstitutional, and the government appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Obama administration supports leaving the cross in the park. As much as I respect President Obama, I have to disagree with him on this one. I have no problem with a memorial honoring World War I soldiers being in the preserve, but why does it have to be a christian symbol (and the cross is recognized worldwide as a christian symbol).

Christians would be opposed to the memorial being a religious symbol from any other religion, so I really don't understand why they think it's OK to force their own symbol on Americans who believe in other religions. Personally, as an atheist, I don't believe symbols of any religion should be placed on government land.

In an attempt to do an end run around the Constitution, the National Preserve has transferred ownership of the cross and the bit of land underneath it to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). This is not real ownership, because the VFW can't sell the land and if they remove or fail to provide upkeep on the cross, the land will revert back to the National Preserve.

The ACLU argued that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and should not be treated as a single, favored religious symbol. Judge Scalia tried to argue that the cross didn't just represent christian soldiers, but was a "common symbol" to honor war dead.

That's a ridiculous argument. One look at national cemeteries for war dead shows that crosses are used for Christian dead, while other symbols are used for those of a different faith. There is even a designated symbol for atheists.

No matter how long the cross has stood in the Mojave National Preserve, it should be removed. Allowing only a Christian symbol amounts to government designating a favorite or "official" religion, and that is unconstitutional.

Americans practice many faiths, and many practice no religion at all. Their tax money helps support the National Park System, and they should not be forced to support someone else's religion.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

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