Next week the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Salazar v Buono, another church-state dispute involving the presence of a cross on public land. In this case, the controversial symbol is a war memorial located on a lonely road in the middle of Mojave National Preserve, a 1.6 million acre park in southeastern California. Ten years ago the National Park Service rejected a request by a man to erect a Buddhist shrine near the cross, and the subsequent legal action resulted in the case now before the Court.
What I find remarkable is a claim made by some of the petitioners arguing in support of the continued presence of the cross. In a Brief of Amicus Curiae the American Legion Department in California said that the cross is “a uniquely transcendent symbol representing the decision to lay down one’s life for the good of others… In short, the cross is one of the most common — and significant — symbols of our society.” The petitioner, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, also argued that the monument was a secular symbol.
Such an argument contradicts the overwhelming evidence of the past 2000 years. For my entire life I have observed Christians displaying the cross and describing its inherent meaningful, religious nature. Indeed, in this very case conservative Christian groups such as CatholicVote.org, the American Center for Law & Justice, the Christian Legal Society and the National Association of Evangelicals have filed briefs in support of the petitioner’s position, suggesting that the cross is a “passive religious symbol.” The cross is a passive symbol? Puhleeze!
Those supporting the respondent’s position against the cross include several atheist, Jewish, and interfaith groups, and at least two Muslim organizations. Easter sunrise services have been held at the base of the cross for years. Can anyone say with a straight face that these groups — the Christian groups and the other groups — would be involved in this case if the cross were a “passive” symbol, and not universally recognized as the most recognized and unique sign of the Christian faith?
The idea that a cross can be divorced from its deep religious symbolism is laughable and ridiculous. I would expect that sincere Christians would protest the devaluing of their most cherished symbol.
(Note: This Wikipedia page includes images of various crosses considered symbols of Christianity and other religions. The specific dimensions of the Mojave cross clearly distinguishes it as a Christian symbol. ie. The smaller horizontal bar is centered about 2/3 of the way up on the longer, vertical bar.)