By David Waters
Caretakers of a World War I Memorial in the Mohave Desert, Henry and Wanda Sandoz, attends the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial case, Wednesday October 7, 2009. At microphone, National Commander Jim Sims, Military Order of the Purple Heart. Melina Mara/TWP
The court saved another cross this week, which should concern Christians more than secularists.
A federal district court in Illinois agreed to dismiss an atheist’s effort to bring down one of America’s tallest crosses, recently renovated in part with a $20,000 state government grant.
That follows last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked removal of a 6-foot, congressionally-endorsed cross at a war memorial in the Mojave Desert. The Mojave cross was stolen about 10 days later and remains missing.
The 111-foot Bald Knob Cross of Peace in southern Illinois isn’t going anywhere. But it represents another government downgrade of the Christian cross, from 2,000-year-old symbol of the Crucified and Resurrected Christ to — in this particular case — tourist attraction.
“It’s just like a lake or a golf course,” Illinois state Sen. Gary Forby said of his support for the renovation grant. “It brings people in from five or six states – motorcycles, churches, sightseeing.”
Six Flags Over Jesus.
The federal court didn’t explain why it was OK for a state to spend taxpayer money to renovate a religious tourist attraction. It merely agreed with a federal magistrate who recommended that the case be dismissed.
According to former law professor Howard M. Friedman of Religion Clause, the magistrate ruled that the “test for taxpayer standing was not met because the grant was made by the executive branch. It was not a specific legislative appropriation.”
Render unto the executive branch that which is the executive branch’s…
In the Mojave cross ruling, the Supreme Court did grudgingly acknowledge that the cross is “a religious symbol.“
But in another cross-in-jeopardy case in 2008, U.S Dist. Judge Larry A. Burns ruled that the 29-foot Latin cross atop a war memorial on federal land in California can also communicate a “primarily non-religious message . . . The primary effect of the Mount Soledad memorial is patriotic and nationalistic.”
To make matters more confusing, and litigious, a U.S. Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in January.
“The use of such a distinctively Christian symbol to honor all veterans sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion,” Judge Margaret M. McKeown wrote. “It suggests that the government is so connected to a particular religion that it treats that religion’s symbolism as its own, as universal. To many non-Christian veterans, this claim of universality is alienating . . . we conclude that the Memorial, presently configured and as a whole, primarily conveys a message of government endorsement of religion . . .”
Every time I read about a government official (judicial, legislative or executive) issuing some sort of ruling on the cross, I get a little nervous. And I am reminded of Constantine’s Cross.
Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. Legend has it that on his march to Rome, Constantine, in a dream of vision, saw a cross in the sky bearing the Latin motto: In Hoc Signo Vinces or “In this sign, you will conquer.” Afterward, he instructed his soldiers to inscribe the cross and motto on their shields and they prevailed.
From then on, it became more and more difficult to separate the church from the empire.
I don’t blame the courts for all of this judicial theology. Judges are just doing their jobs, interpreting and applying secular laws to sacred objects. I just hope they remain sacred.
Is the judicial system secularizing a sacred object?