Archive for Tuesday, July 25, 2006

San Diego cross may provide national legal test

July 25, 2006


— Ronald Reagan had just left office, the Christian Coalition was new, "values" had yet to become a buzzword of American politics and six of the current U.S. Supreme Court justices had other jobs when an atheist sued the city of San Diego for permitting a giant cross in a public park.

Seventeen years later, the 29-foot concrete monument still crowns a hill over the Pacific, defended by the city's voters and members of Congress.

Now the Supreme Court has stepped in, and the case of the Mount Soledad cross could help determine under what circumstances religious symbols are permissible in public places.

The cross, dedicated in 1954 in honor of Korean War veterans, was erected by the Mount Soledad Memorial Foundation, a private, nonprofit group that also maintains the monument.

State and federal judges have ordered the cross removed, saying it represents an unconstitutional endorsement of one religion. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court blocked an order that the city take it down by Aug. 1, giving state and federal courts time to hear appeals this fall.

The high court has inched toward allowing religious symbols in public places if they have historical value or nonreligious meaning. A pair of 5-4 rulings on separate cases involving the Ten Commandments in 2005 established hazy guidelines on what is permissible: A display inside a Kentucky courthouse was deemed unconstitutional, while a 6-foot granite monument outside the Texas Capitol was fine.

Supporters of the Soledad cross call it the centerpiece of a war memorial that salutes veterans, not religion.


erichaar 11 years, 10 months ago

"State and federal judges have ordered the cross removed"

Somebody's values will prevail in this country. Let's hope it's not those of "state and federal judges."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 10 months ago

Yea, we wouldn't want a little thing like the constitution keep you from cramming your "values" down everyone else's throat, erichaar.

badger 11 years, 10 months ago

Is it there as a war memorial, or as a great big cross?

As primarily a war memorial privately maintained without public funds, I can accept it even if it is shaped like a great big cross. As primarily a great big cross that happens to also be a war monument, it doesn't belong on public lands no matter who paid for it.

I guess my question would really be, "What significance does it have to most of those who see or visit it, and to those who support and maintain it? Do they see it as a Christian symbol, or as a remembrance of the troops?" Even if the intent was as a war monument, if it's become primarily a religious symbol, then it should be removed. If its supporters are all like erichaar, there, talking about symbols of values instead of honoring the dead from an often-overlooked war, then it's lost its meaning as a war monument and it's just a big Christian symbol.

Symbols glorifying or endorsing one particular faith over another don't belong on public land, even if they're not directly bought or maintained with public money. Public money still pays for the land, its upkeep, and access, thus supporting any religious symbols put up there.

Oh, and erichaar? State and federal judges don't exist to have a d****d thing to do with 'values'. Their job is law and constitutionality, not morals and values. Let our religious leaders concern themselves with moral values, and our legal and political leaders concern themselves with legal values, ethics, and justice. We'd all be a lot better off if politics didn't meddle in religion and religion kept its nose out of politics. I'm tired of seeing religious ceremonies turned into three-ring circuses because they're 'good photo ops' and political discourse sidetracked by semantic religious arguments. Separation of church and state is really actually good for both church and state, I promise!

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

You know, I've been trying to figure out why religious symbols in public bother so many people. Every year, I see menorah's and the Star of David all over the place. I'm not Jewish, but this doesn't offend me in the least. I see figures of the virgin Mary all over the place. I'm not Catholic, but this doesn't offend me in the least.

Why are we so intolerant of the religious symbols of others? If it offends you (although I don't know why in the world it should) don't look at it. I've never heard of one person who was compelled to join a particular religion because they saw one of their symbols once.

Although I have seen symbols that DO offend me: people who have three in their family and own huge, five bedroom houses, and then claim they're too "small" for them; people who have two drivers in the family and own four cars; people who have to brag constantly about their newest cell phone that can do everything but scrub their toilet; people who brag about their new satellite receiver that lets them get 1000 channels that they never watch.

Guess their religion must be the Church of Gluttony and Conceit.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

so once again the vets are the ones getting screwed? that is how I see it.

badger 11 years, 10 months ago

crazy -

I'm not in the least offended by people's personal displays of their faith. I find them reassuring. I think it's good when people have faith in things.

My concern is that when public funds pay for and support those religious symbols, it amounts to an endorsement of the religion that symbol stands for. I'm required by law to pay the taxes that pay for that religious symbol, and that (for me) cuts too close to Congress making a law regarding the establishment, continuance, or endorsement of a religion. That's one of the Top Ten, and therefore I'm not comfortable with trespass on those grounds.

Put in balance with the current difficulties experienced by the family of a fallen Wiccan soldier to get their religious symbol placed on their loved one's military grave because the pentacle isn't an 'approved' symbol despite numerous petitions over the years, and I do get defensive about state funds being used to support the symbols of other religions, because it's very clear those funds aren't being distributed equally or used fairly, and that nonChristian religions aren't getting the same level of support.

NonChristians have asked for that support and we haven't gotten it (I can dig up the link to the Wiccan soldier's story this evening, if you like, but it was on Yahoo and CNN so it should be google-able if you're impatient), so the only other option is for us to advocate that if our faith cannot be equally supported with public money, no one's should.

Note that since Wiccan and other pagan churches began applying for tax exemptions and being fairly awarded the same considerations, nonChristians have been significantly less likely to oppose tax breaks for Christian churches, because we feel we have equal treatment. If a Wiccan church were denied tax exempt status because it's not an 'approved' religion, then you'd see people all up in arms about state funding for religion through preferential tax breaks. I would like to see an equivalent tax exemption option for secular or atheist organizations, but I'm not sure how one could define an 'atheist church' and have it not just be ludicrous.

It's not about offense at all. It's about equitable economics for everyone.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

it is and was put up by a private non profit group, and I do not think any memorial for the soliders should be removed.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 10 months ago

I agree, Badger. But I don't see anything wrong with a religious symbol being there, if there are also religious symbols from other religions allowed there as well, even if public funds are being used.

However, if the monument was paid for and placed there by a private, non-profit group, and is also maintained by that same group, I don't see what all the fuss is about. How are public funds being used if it's maintained by this group?

I'm afraid that we've become so paranoid about the display of ANY religious symbols, that soon we won't be able to have ANY symbols of ANY religion allowed ANYWHERE. And that would be a shame.

badger 11 years, 10 months ago

It's my understanding that even though it's maintained by a private group, it's still on public land, which is where the point of contention comes in.

OK, so they maintain the monument itself. What about fees and upkeep for the property, any parking lots or sidewalks, fences or benches? Do they also pay that, and do any landscaping and maintenance for areas people need to go through to access it? Does any public money at all go into the upkeep, maintenance, or accessibility of this monument or the property it's on?

If no, not even so much as a groundskeeper comes out of public funding and the public doesn't spend a dime on it, then they can put up all the giant crosses they want. If any public money supports any aspect of it, then it's a matter for public debate.

Once it's a matter for public debate, then we come back to, "Is this primarily a war monument or primarily a religious symbol?" Its primary identity is what determines its appropriateness on publicly owned land.

If I've misunderstood and this is on private land, go them and their giant cross till the cows come home, I got no reservations about it (except on the 'giant crosses can be kinda tacky sometimes' front) whatsoever.

And so long as we do stress that it's about the public support of religious symbols and economic differences, and not about whether or not it's inherently appropriate or inappropriate to display them, then we have a much decreased risk of running into that 'no one can display any religious symbols EVER' problem.

And believe me, if I thought I could hang a triple moon symbol on City Hall to recognize one of my holidays with public funds and not be lambasted by the same people who gripe that they can't have a nativity scene, I wouldn't call this an issue at all. But some people are remarkably blind when it comes to freedom of religions they don't consider 'real enough.' If we can't play fair, I have to keep advocating that the toys be taken away from everyone, and we have a pretty solid track record of not playing fair.

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 10 months ago

Okay, admitted I skipped a bunch of posts, but I have a few of questions. How is this cross a memorial? Are the soldiers names written on it and if so, does that include non-christians? I was babtized and confirmed as a christian, but don't practice any form of religion as an adult. Frankly, I don't like organized religion. And I really don't like having religious symbols and other peoples "values" waved at or around me, particularly christian ones. Seems to me, the christian rightous are usually the hypocrits. People of Jewish or Muslim faith seem comfortable about stating their depth of devoutness when asked and otherwise, keep it to themselves. Seems to me, christians could take a lesson from these "minority" religions.

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 10 months ago

Next, can we have the Supremes take a look at the Pope John Paul II park just south of Boston? It's a beautiful park, but I really hate using the pooper scooper when my sister and I walk her dog there. The Catholic Church freaks me out the most. You have a person with serious emotional problems, odds are, they attended parochial school. And why does the Catholic Church require people to tithe a certain percentage of their earnings? Seems to me they already have enough money. Vatican City is actually its own country. Have you seen their art collection? They own it, it ain't on loan from Spencer.

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 10 months ago

Yup. It's actually quite a beautiful park. It has soccer fields and bike/running path. My sister and I take her dog there frequently, even though the name gives me the heebie-jeebies. And it was named before the Pope died. It's not actually that surprising; Boston has a large Irish population, thus a large Catholic population. In Jersey, its Italians. LOTS of Italians there.....and excellent restaurants.

badger 11 years, 10 months ago

C-Man -

I'm glad to hear that. Could I ask you, then, if you would consider writing a simple letter to the US Department of Veterans' Affairs to that effect, and asking that the memorial of Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart, believed to be the first acknowledged Wiccan killed in combat, be allowed to be marked with the symbol of his faith?

Believe me, it would mean a great deal to the Wiccans currently serving if they could know that, should they fall, their graves will be honored with symbols of their faith instead of being left without them.

I'll try and put a link to the WashPost story, though the link is pretty long and may not work. If not, google 'wiccan soldier grave marker' and the WP link is the second one.

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 10 months ago

badger - now you've got me curious. What is the wiccan symbol of faith? I'm intrigued.

badger 11 years, 10 months ago

There are several among different pagan traditions.

The most universally recognized is an upright five-pointed star inside a circle (pentacle), though the triple moon symbol (a circle with a crescent attached to either side to represent the waxing, full, and waning of the moon), Thor's hammer, a spiral, and certain stylized bird, animal, and human figures are also used to represent different belief systems in various neopagan cultures.

The pentacle is the one that has been petitioned for the last several years as a grave marker.

badger 11 years, 10 months ago


Please read the article I posted.

The family of this soldier has petitioned for the symbol's usage. They are getting nowhere. For years, Wiccans have tried to get the right to have their faith displayed on their grave markers should they fall in battle. Now, one has, and he can't be recognized as a member of his faith by the military that sent him into harm's way. That's not right.

Coming from you, or from any US citizen of conscience, a letter of support for religious equality would not be at all inappropriate. Families have gone through channels, chaplains have offered support, paperwork has been filed, lost, refiled, relost, denied without clear explanation, re-refiled and re-relost. I think the only thing that will help in this situation is widespread public outcry into why exactly certain people who die defending American rights and freedoms aren't entitled to those things they're protecting for others.

I'm sorry you feel it's 'not appropriate' for you to advocate equal rights and freedoms for Wiccans who die protecting yours, but I respectfully disagree with that, and suggest that inequality is everyone's business. It's an example of precisely what I have been talking about, the fact that many who oppose publicly-funded Christian displays do so because the money for them has been extorted from us under tax law when we are not allowed the same support and expression of our religious beliefs as those for whom we're funding endorsements and recognitions of faith. If my sister fell in battle, my tax dollars would put a cross on her grave, but if I fell instead, the same tax dollars wouldn't put a pentacle on mine.

Wicca is recognized, by the way, not all forms of paganism. However, one battle at a time. For now, even the acceptance of Wicca on military installations and as a recognized faith is a big step I'm glad to call a victory. In time, paganism will follow in the wedge Wicca's opened, I have no doubt.

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