In a much-publicized decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently decided that a memorial cross at the Mount Soledad veterans’ memorial violated the Federal Constitution. In particular, the Court looked at the First Amendment and examined the issue under the so-called “separation of church and state” mantra. The decision may not seem like much when reported as a news story, but its implications are staggering. Let’s see why.
Imagine a balance scale capable of weighing arguments, so that the weightier side prevails. Here’s the alignment of interests. On one side of the scale, we have a location where a memorial cross honoring veterans has stood, in one form or another, since 1913 – nearly a century. The current memorial has been at the location since 1954, and the area surrounding the memorial is filled with numerous walls of plaques honoring individual veterans. After nearly two decades of relentless lawsuits by the ACLU, the property with the memorial was taken by the Federal Government in an act of Congress to establish a federal memorial for all veterans. By Congressional standards, the action was a marvel of both speed and consensus. More than 80 per cent of representatives in the House voted for it. The Senate approved the transfer in a unanimous vote –see many of those lately?
On the same side of the scale with a unified Congress, we also have enormous community support and the opinion of the largest veterans’ organizations in the nation, representing literally millions of veterans. In fact, the veterans’ groups forcefully described the ACLU lawsuit as an insult to the honor and memory of veterans everywhere. They expressed the surprisingly easy-to-grasp concept that veterans should be able to say how they would like to honor their own. So, on one side we have long-standing tradition, Congress and the President, local residents, and veterans.
What could possibly be placed on the opposite side of the scale to tip the balance? The answer is a handful of individuals who claim to be “offended” by the sight of the memorial. This is not a misprint or misstatement, and now, if this three judge panel has its way, it will be the law for much of the country.
Groups like the ACLU have a long-standing dysfunctional relationship with memorial crosses. The military has long used the symbol of a cross to honor soldiers and veterans; consider, for example, the nation’s second highest military award, the Distinguished Service Cross. Offended observers irrationally see here a covert attempt to establish the Christian faith. The very suggestion defies common sense and experience.
Imagine you are driving down a peaceful country lane, when you round a curve and see a small cross with flowers planted on the roadside. What would be your first thought: someone perished at this spot, or would it be “someone is trying to establish the Christian religion roadside”? No rational person jumps to the second conclusion. And yet, according to this decision, the small handful of thin-skinned types who do must be accommodated.
The comparison is even starker when we look behind the arguments. The memorial cross stands in mute recognition of sacrifice, honor, and courage. These attributes were displayed by veterans, many of whom paid the ultimate price to protect our freedoms. In a grotesque use of those freedoms, a few individuals motivated by their personal offense and sense of self-importance, sued to destroy the symbol honoring those who fought for those freedoms. The easily-offended ACLU clients behind the suit try to cloak their actions with pretensions of constitutional dignity, but the arguments sound more like the yapping of irritated poodles in the presence of a solemn memorial.
Fortunately, the three judge panel is not the end of the road. The United States Supreme Court has an opportunity to hear this case and reverse the terrible injustice. In fact, the Supreme Court has already hinted about their views on memorial crosses. In another ACLU lawsuit against a memorial cross, only the year before, the Supreme Court reversed the same appellate court, though on a different issue. The majority decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy featured stirring language about memorial crosses, which I cannot improve upon, and so I will simply quote:
(A) Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. It is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people. Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.
Unfortunately, three judges on the Ninth Circuit didn’t get the message. Americans everywhere are hoping the Supreme Court will step in again and right this wrong.
This article originally appeared on Mercator.net, January 13, 2011.
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