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The Mojave Cross: Supreme Court Listens

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

A few days ago, I talked a bit about a controversy storming around a 6-foot cross in the Mojave Desert commemorating soldiers who died in World War I. The Supreme Court heard opening arguments yesterday.

From what I gather, the court seemed relatively uninterested on the big, underlying question at hand — whether a war memorial in the shape of a cross constitutes the government supporting a particular religion over all others. Rather, they restricted their questioning as to whether the government (specifically, the U.S. Congress) had the right to deed the parcel of land on which the cross stands to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (as they did) to, essentially, wash their hands of the prickly problem. 

According to The Washington Post, ” … only Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to want to decide the more basic question of whether the cross was unconstitutional in the first place. He had a testy exchange with [American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Peter J.]  Eliasberg about whether the symbol — which the lawyer said “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins” — could also double as a secular marker for the war dead of all faiths.

Scalia said the cross was the “common symbol of the resting place of the dead,” and asked, “What would you have them erect . . . some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half-moon and star?”

Eliasberg drew laughter from the crowded courtroom when he responded, “I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.”

Scalia did not laugh. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that’s an outrageous conclusion,” he said.

But Scalia, if he’s trying to protect this cross — and others across the country — from being pulled down in lawsuit after lawsuit, he’s missing support from a pretty important voice in Christianity: Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of American Christianity’s most thoughtful conservative voices. 

While the government’s lawyers try to press their case, Christians should reject any argument that presents the cross as a secular symbol. There is nothing remotely secular about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Arguments for the constitutionality of religious language and symbolism based in the supposedly secular character of the speech or imagery may win in the courtroom, but the arguments are devastating to authentic belief.

Of all people, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ must be the first to insist that the cross is a symbol of Christian faith, pointing directly to the cross on which Christ died as our substitute. The cross must not be reduced to a generic symbol of death and the memory of loved ones.

To that I offer a hearty “amen.” 

It’ll be interesting to see how this case moves forward, though I doubt this, like most of the other cases involving religious symbolism on government property, will yield a definitive conclusion. The justices seem inclined to take each case on its own merits, electing to allow one courtroom to keep its Ten Commandments display in one state while ordering a courtroom in another state to take a similar (but younger, less entrenched) display down. 

 

 

Cross Purposes

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

 

The famous Argonne Cross in Arlington National Cemetery could be removed if religious liberty advocates have their way. Photo courtesy Arlington National Cemetery.

The famous Argonne Cross in Arlington National Cemetery could be removed if religious liberty advocates have their way. Photo courtesy Arlington National Cemetery.

A cross honoring veterans of World War I has come under fire from civil liberties proponents, because the 6-foot cross located on federal land. The catch: the land in question, according to The Washington Post, is located in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California– a nearly deserted region surrounded by yucca and Joshua trees, where sometimes you can stand for a full hour without seeing another car trundle by.”

 

“I always say you have to risk life and limb to be offended by this cross,” says Hiram Sasser, a lawyer for the Liberty Legal Institute, which is representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the effort to keep the cross in place. 

While few people have ever seen the cross — especially now, since it’s covered with a plywood box to keep it from offending passers-by — the case could have far-reaching consequences for other religiously tinged war memorials. If it’s decided legally the cross must come down, it might mean other markers, including the Argonne Cross in Arlington National Cemetery and the Memorial Peace Cross in Bladensburg, might be under fire, too.