By now most of you are familiar with the Supreme Court case, Salazar vs. Buono, that will be argued soon concerning the cross that was erected in the 1930s by the VFW on what became Federal land in the Mojave desert to memorialize the fallen soldiers of World War I. The usual suspects are gearing up on both sides to get rid of it, or keep it, depending on one’s point of view. In the meantime, it remains wrapped in plywood pending Supreme Court review this term.
The lower courts have ruled that it is a violation of the Establishment Clause, and have found it to be unconstitutional. The government did not appeal that, so that’s not the issue. What the government did is try to transfer the land to a private veterans organization, while retaining its National Memorial status. The issue before the Court now is whether that’s enough to protect it from unconstitutional status. There are compelling arguments on both sides.
It clearly is a Christian symbol on federal land, that promotes exclusion of non-Christian military casualties of WWI. By omission it excludes the 11% of non-Christian faiths represented in the military, along with the other 21% of atheists there. That’s 32% of the military who are impliedly told that if they die in the course of defending their country, they won’t be as appreciated as their Christian colleagues.
Of course, that’s not what the VFW intended when they erected the cross, and no one would accuse them of being so callous. In fact, it wasn’t even federal land at the time it was erected, and wasn’t transferred until 1994. Most people at the time would not have given it much thought. But that’s the overarching mentality of religion, that most people really don’t think about the consequences of such a decision, because the mentality was predominantly theist. That’s not criticism, just fact. Religion has always been a prevalent factor in majority rule, and the majority has always been religious.
But it doesn’t excuse the tendency to want to perpetuate the slight, unintentional that it was. Saying “well, it’s been there for over 70 years, so what’s the harm in leaving it there” doesn’t cut it. Saying it’s not religious, it’s a secular memorial for fallen soldiers who happened to be Christian ignores the non- Christians, and underscores the exclusivity inherent in that excuse. And carving out a small plot of land in the middle of the Federal preserve doesn’t seem right either.
I say it goes. Anyone else?