Judicial cross examination

By David Waters Caretakers of a World War I Memorial in the Mohave Desert, Henry and Wanda Sandoz, attends the … Continued

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?

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  • joe_allen_doty

    Christians didn’t create the cross; Romans apparently did. It’s not really a sign of resurrection; it’s a sign of death. There’s nothing sacred or holy about a cross. Jesus’ body wasn’t on the cross for very long.

  • PSolus

    joe_allen_doty,”Jesus’ body wasn’t on the cross for very long.”Long enough?

  • hrobert02

    Before we get all hung up on crosses (pun intended), I wonder if Jesus had lived in the 20th century, would his admirers be wearing little electric chairs around their necks?



  • schnauzer21

    Christians didn’t create the cross; Romans apparently did. It’s not really a sign of resurrection; it’s a sign of death.

  • detroitblkmale30


  • slowe111

    The cross in question ( call it Latin, or Christian) is THE essential symbol of one religion: Christianity, used and recognized as such the world over. To say othewise insults both Christians and the rest of us. To say it is not a religious symbol is doublespeak which has its origins in “doublethink” from Orwell 1984: “Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them…” – (Orwell, New American Library, 1981, p35)

  • detroitblkmale30

    It does raise an interesting issue though, apparently for the courts to decide. Is there a context which a destination(whether it be cross or any other religious symbol, or even a tourist attraction or them park) can be justified for the greater public benefit(economically) if it is not overtly practicing or promoting religion? Is paying for a cross on a hillside where no other activity occurs outside of people coming to view the same as tax dollars for a particular church were people go to worship and practice religion?

  • itsthedax

    Why would any religious group assume that it is entitled to the free use of public land?

  • DaveHarris

    It’s not too much of a reach to imagine the cross having a ‘secular’ symbolism apart from Christianity. The same is true of Christmas. Although it irritates a lot of Christians that non-believers also enjoy Christmas, they do anyway and they don’t need permission from the holier-than-thou. Here, the believers are afraid that they will lose control of their symbol. But that ship sailed long ago.