Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sign of the Cross

High court hears arguments about cross in park The cross still stands in the Mojave National Preserve in California. However, it has been covered over with plywood. This was ordered by a federal court.

As the Supreme Court weighed a dispute over a religious symbol on public land week, Justice Antonin Scalia was having difficulty understanding how some people might feel excluded by a cross that was put up as a memorial to soldiers killed in World War I.

"It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead," Scalia said of the cross that the Veterans of Foreign Wars built 75 years ago atop an outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve. "What would you have them erect?...Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"

Peter Eliasberg, the
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer arguing the case, explained that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and commonly used at Christian grave site. ""I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion," Scalia said.The court is considering whether the cross' presence on the land violates the Constitution, despite Congress' decision to transfer the land on which the cross sits to private ownership.

Several conservative justices seemed open to the Obama administration's argument that Congress' decision to transfer to private ownership the land on which the cross sits ends any government endorsement of the cross and takes care of the constitutional questions. "Isn't that a sensible interpretation" of a court order prohibiting the cross' display on government property? Justice Samuel Alito asked. The liberal justices, on the other hand, indicated that they agree with a federal appeals court that ruled that the land transfer was a sort of end-run around the First Amendment prohibition against government endorsement of religion.

Whatever the court decides, it seems unlikely that the Mojave cross — where Easter Sunrise services have been held for decades — would have to come down. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg indicated, and Eliasberg agreed, that even if the court finds problems with what Congress did, lawmakers probably could find a valid way to sell or give the land to veterans groups. A decision is expected by spring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would say this is bad reporting. The article refers to "the First Amendment prohibition against government endorsement of religion." But the constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." It refers specifically to establishment of a state religion, like Anglicanism in England, where the monarch has titular leadership of the church. The cross in this case was placed by the VFW and not the government, and permitting this symbol over the symbols of other religions in a remote corner of the desert hardly constitutes an establishment of a national religion.