Although the result in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association case was entirely predictable, reading it still left me stunned. The case involves a dispute over whether a local government in the state of Maryland can tax its citizenry in order to maintain an overtly Christian World War I memorial.
With an objective Court, a decision recognizing that the state had no such coercive taxation power under the First Amendment would have been readily assured. After all, I am old enough to remember when the United States Supreme Court believed that government financially compelling free and independent individuals to endorse beliefs they find objectionable was always demeaning. When an individual’s objection to such forced extractions was not trivialized as the taking of mere offense, but a sacred objection against tyrannical government power. But, alas, that was the long-forgotten time of ….*checks notes*…. holy shit, just a year ago?
It is undeniably telling about the state of free conscience liberty that when faced with extending the same principles against forced extraction to non-religious or non-Christian citizens, the Court’s views on the issue abruptly changed. Nothing can excuse such blatantly different outcomes to the same objection, and no explanation other than outright religious bigotry against non-believers can explain the outcome in the Bladensburg cross case.
From the beginning of the Court’s plurality opinion, it becomes rather transparent that Justice Samuel Alito is seeking to diminish the objection of the non-believer against being forced to pay for a religious monument. According to Alito, the objection boils down to being merely offended at the sight of the monument. Moreover, in contrast, Justice Alito takes a great deal of time to elevate Christian moral objections regarding the views of the same monument. For example, Alito states that “[a] government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”
Using Alito’s own logic here however begs the question: Why is a country that roams the land forcing people to pay for the erection and maintenance of religious monuments not seen as being aggressively hostile to non-religious people? More importantly, as noted by the dissent, tearing down these monuments is not the only solution. All the state of Maryland had to do to conform with First Amendment principles was stop forcing people to pay for the Christian monument and instead let the upkeep be maintained by willing donators. I will never understand why an insistence on willing participants was not enough to settle this case and that the only satisfactory outcome for the cross’s radical theocratic proponents was having the authority to force unwilling others to pay.
In other words, according to the Court, the Latin Cross has transcended religion and become a secular symbol. This is literally the equivalent of saying that Jesus Christ is not a Christian figure, an idea so absurd that it becomes somewhat offensive that the Court would expect people paying attention to take this conclusion seriously.
Unfortunately, such a transparently biased outcome that favors Christianity at the expense of every other belief is becoming an all too familiar outcome, in a particularly dangerous time. As I have repeatedly stressed, we are in a unique moment in our history when a sizable portion of the population with whom religion plays no role lives alongside an equally sizable portion for whom religion plays a vital role. Disturbingly, the growth of a non-religious population that demands the same free conscience protections has come to be seen as a menacing threat to many religious people. It is now to the point that a religious zealot and bigot who just so happens to be the country’s former Attorney General can openly describe irreligious citizens as a dire threat to our country that must be stopped.
— Tyler Broker, Above the Law, The Bladensburg Cross Case Is A National Disgrace, June 25, 2019
I feel like in some ways we are moving back to the 1950s when white male Christians ruled and everyone else had better stay in their “proper” place.
I think so too. Many Evangelicals pine for the days of Joseph McCarthy — a time when the United States was great and the Christian God ruled the land.
Many monuments in Washington DC are modeled after Greek Temples, does he propose tax payers not pay for their maintenance? The 9/11 museum has the the World Trade Center cross, does he propose the taxpayer not pay for it’s maintenance. The Holocaust Museum has a Star of David, is he opposed to tax payer support for this museum? Near where I live is the Etowah Indian Mounds. One of the mounds was the priestly mound. Does he propose no maintenance be done on this religious artifact? What about the religious Indian artifacts on display? Should they be allowed to waste to nothingness? What about government owned graveyards? Should the graves with religious symbols be neglected?
Yes we have Separation of Church and State. This means the following:
The Government cannot establish a religion. Basically no Anglican Church
The Government cannot endorse a religion. Basically it cannot say one religion is better than another.
Mixing is allowed provided it does not violate those two premises.
The narrative being pushed by some anti religious groups is that the government must absolutely be separate from religion and that is not the rule. The rule is above. Certainly the Founding Fathers would not recognize this absolute Separation of Church and State and even if you want to argue the Constitution is a living breathing document that changes with society then society does recognize this absolute separation rule.
The cross was a war memorial from day one. That is a secular purpose. That was what the Supreme Court found including two liberal justices. The fact it was shaped like a cross is irrelevant. It is a war memorial. As I pointed out earlier if the builders wanted this cross to have some religious meaning beyond that it is odd that they mention that no where. Odd also that this ole so religious cross has a rather secular symbol of the US in the middle of it instead of Jesus. Seriously did the people build it just forget to do all that??
I am not a believer; however when it comes to stuff like this I have no problem telling some of my fellow nonbelievers get over it. Your personal interpretation of Separation of Church and State has never been the law of the land. There are real battles. This was never one of them.
I don’t plan on getting over it any time soon. I have a fundamental problem with tax money going to support religious monuments, clergy, churches, synagogues, temples, religious daycares, home schoolers, religious primary/secondary schools, etc. Such payments are naked endorsements and support of sectarian religion.
The writer of this article presented a plan to solve the church/state conundrum: give the religious memorial to a private group. They can then raise the money to maintain it. Problem solved.
I find it hilarious and sad that the Supreme Court ruled that the Bladensburg Cross was a secular symbol. This should offend Christians, but instead they cheer, thinking they’ve won a big victory. What’s next? Creches, complete with the baby Jesus, are secular too? Or Christian prayer/Bible reading in public schools? Both predate the Bladensburg Cross, so surely they are “secular” by now, right?
That secularists cheer too is even more disturbing. Have we not learned anything? That if you give Christians an inch, they will take a mile; that incrementalism is their game plan — until Jesus is restored to his rightful place as the ruler of the land. One need only to carefully examine how we went from Roe v. Wade to the widespread abolition of abortion in 40 years to see how Christians effectively use incrementalism to advance their religious/political agenda.
A cross — including the one at the 9-11 site — is a religious symbol, and no amount of verbiage can change that fact. Jesus died on a cross, thousands of Christian churches have crosses on/in their buildings, and scores of Americans wear cross necklaces. In every instance, these symbols are Christian in nature. The only question for me is this: what do we do with crosses and other patently religious symbols on private property.
Well you don’t have to get over it but you are wasting your time. Reality put a much needed smack down on American Humanist. Oh well they can howl and moan all they want.
Society does not agree with you.
I think this is my last comment here. I enjoyed talking with you Bruce but I simply do not have the intense loathing of Christians and Christianity that you do.
Nice of you to shit on me (“the intense loathing of Christians and Christianity that you do.”) as you go out the door.
Be well, and thanks for commenting.
Well put, Kris. I agree 100% with your take on this.
I’m sorry. I don’t want to rock a boat that is clearly arousing such passion but…a cross isn’t a religious symbol?
Okay, I accept it’s been there a long time and has acquired plenty of other connotations, but the people who erected it did so because of its religious symbolism, which at the time was probably uncontentious. Well now it isn’t.
Boat rocking is okay. I can swim. I am disappointed Kris signed-off. Outside of this subject, I have appreciated and largely agreed with his comments. That the Bladensburg Cross is a U.S. war memorial adds, for some people, yet another reason it should remain.
The issue is singular for me: the Cross is a Christian religious symbol that is maintained by public monies. This is a violation of the establishment clause and the separation of church and state. One of the reasons I support the Freedom From Religion Foundation is there unwavering defense of these principles. The American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU do the same.