descriptive scholarly accounts of religious identityandjudicial behavior?

Volokh, Eugene VOLOKH at law.ucla.edu
Thu Apr 22 14:19:37 PDT 2010


            I gave the Hawaiian flag as an example to rebut another poster's skepticism as to the "argument that a cross could ever be considered to be a non-religious symbol."  (I gave it, actually, as an example of "the acquisition of the nonreligious connotation is so old that [the religious connotation] is forgotten.")  The other examples I gave are examples of material that has modern religious symbolism, as opposed to just a religious history, but also has nonreligious meaning as well.

            Eugene

From: Janet Alexander [mailto:jca at stanford.edu]
Sent: Thursday, April 22, 2010 1:39 PM
To: Volokh, Eugene; 'conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu'
Subject: Re: descriptive scholarly accounts of religious identityandjudicial behavior?

I know what the Union Jack is. What I said is that -- unlike a cross at a war memorial, or symbols reflecting the role of religion in the history of the Southwest -- those crosses did not have any religious symbolism at all for the Hawaiians who adopted it as part of their flag (since they had a state religion that was polytheistic and headed by the King who designed the flag) and never have had any religious significance in the context of the flag. It is not that they do not have any religious significance "for Hawaiians today."  They never had any religious significance whatever for Hawaiians, but only a purely secular significance reflecting the relationship of Hawaii with Great Britain. Thus the Hawaiian flag is not an apt example of a "cross" that has both religious and secular significance.

At 01:14 PM 4/22/2010, Volokh, Eugene wrote:

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            The crosses on the Union Jack are the crosses of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick.  To be sure, they probably have no religious significance for Hawaiians today, but that just reflects my point, which was to respond to a poster who did "not comprehend the argument that a cross could ever be considered to be a non-religious symbol."

If one is looking for examples of crosses that have religious significance to some but also have nonreligious meaning, the Landing Cross and the crosses on the Las Cruces seal would be examples of that.  Likewise, the names of various cities would be examples of other originally religious references that have religious significance to some but also have nonreligious meaning; but of course then we'd be moving further away from the specific claim about a cross (quoted above) to which I was responding.

            Eugene

From: Janet Alexander [ mailto:jca at stanford.edu]
Sent: Thursday, April 22, 2010 12:53 PM
To: Volokh, Eugene; 'conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu'
Subject: RE: descriptive scholarly accounts of religious identityandjudicial behavior?

Just to clarify, as to the repeated reference to the Hawaiian flag. Those are not crosses; they are the British Union Jack. The islands were a British protectorate until King Kamehameha unified the Hawaiian nation in 1810. The flag was adopted in 1816, with 8 stripes representing the 8 islands and the Union Jack in the corner representing the nation's close relationship with Great Britain. King Kamehameha was the head of the indigenous Hawaiian religion, which prevailed until after his death in 1819. Therefore, whatever the significance of the flag to the British, there is no chance that the Union Jack had any sort of religious significance for the Hawaiians when the flag was adopted.  The Congregationalist missionaries immortalized by James Michener did not even arrive until 1820. Thus the Hawaiian flag is not on a par with the cross in the desert and has only a non-religious significance.



At 11:59 AM 4/22/2010, Volokh, Eugene wrote:
        So should Christians likewise adamantly object to Las Cruces, and its flag and name?  To the Hawaiian flag?  To the cities named after religious figures?  To the First Landing Cross in Virginia Beach, http://www.virginia.org/site/description.asp?attrID=10473? All of these are secular applications of Christian symbols.  All those "secularize" them insofar as acknowledging that the symbols have secular meaning as well as religious meaning.

        My sense is that Christians shouldn't adamantly object to them, just as the nonreligious like me shouldn't adamantly object to them.  I would think that if we took things across the quad to the humanities people, and asked about meaning and not legal significance, they'd tell us what they've been saying about so many things for so many years -- symbols have multiple meanings in multiple contexts, the meanings change over time, the number of meanings often grows over time, and trying to limit the meanings to the One True Meaning is a lost cause.

        Eugene
...
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