Crosses: Hypothetical v. Actual
rs at robertsheridan.com
Fri Apr 30 09:41:56 PDT 2010
(Mt. Davidson, supra, Wiki).
Suppose I believe that the FA guaranty that government should
'establish' no religion, meaning to prefer one to another, is correct.
Further that some of my religious friends have the notion that the
symbol of their faith should be erected on my public land. What does
that make me? After all, in America, I have the right to my own beliefs.
And what does that make them?
What is it that urges someone to build, or to propose that government
build for him, a cross that is 103' feet tall, on a mountaintop,
elevation 900+', overlooking the city, out of concrete and steel, to
hold Easter services, and to get the president of the U.S. (FDR, in the
case of the Mt. Davidson cross), to illuminate the cross?
What is it that impels someone to (a) institute prayer in the public
schools, (b) object to their removal, as in Engle v. Vitale, and (c)
resort to subterfuge to permit such banned prayer by promoting the
alleged right of students to say their private prayers in public on the
pretext that these are private actions not attributable to the
government running the public schools, or by promoting a moment of
Courts and lawyers are supposed to be good at analyzing seemingly
complex matters for what they really are. A sham deed can be no more
than a security instrument, for instance.
What seems to be the difficulty in recognizing certain things for what
they are? Prayer to whom, or what, for example? Obviously the
promoters of school prayer and public monuments of a religious nature
have something in mind. We can be reasonably sure that they are not
promoting the erection of a 103' tall concrete and steel seated Buddha,
or a 103' tall concrete and steel mezuzah, on a mountaintop, although
there is the old gag that this is not a cross, it's a mezuzah with
handle-bars, possibly invented by a former yeshiva student tired of the
all the fooling around.
If establishing the cross on public land for the public to see is not a
step in the direction of government establishment of religion, why not
then augment it with other harmless activities such as prayer in school
and the placement of Ten Commandment icons in civic buildings?
If you doubt that this is religious activity, see who objects to their
removal. Avowed Christians of one ilk or another. Suddenly government
cannot support them in their efforts to proselytize others. Is this not
a commandment of their religion? Isn't this why we see such things?
Isn't a great deal of the legal hair-splitting we're discussing merely
an effort to distinguish away what is there in plain sight for all to
see? A 103' tall concrete and steel icon that people of a certain faith
pray before in mass ceremonies? It's not as though they don't have the
right to hire a stadium to conduct mass, as a private matter, such as
when the pope visits NYC and the privately owned Yankee Stadium is
secured to accommodate thousands of participants.
What I see in such controversies is an exercise in self-centered
arrogance, the feeling that my faith-needs come before yours, so to hell
My right to be left alone (Brandeis's most fundamental right, in
Olmstead, the famous wiretap case) is being infringed upon by the claim
of a right by religious others to shove their faith down my unwilling
throat. I hadn't thought that they had this right in the U.S., but
since we keep arguing about it, apparently they do. And so the fight
continues, destined not to subside any time soon.
One of the striking things about the argument in such cases is the
evasion practiced by those seeking to uphold their claim of right to
engage in the school prayer, the cross-building, and the public displays
of religious symbols, theirs, in city halls, public buildings such as
courthouses, public parks, etc. These good folk seem to have an
aversion to stating their motives, their motivation, their intent.
What is their intent? To satisfy what urge? To say that "My religion
enjoys government approval and support while yours doesn't, nyah, nyah,
To invoke the alleged blessings of their god on people who may not
necessarily think that their god, as interpreted by their religious
leaders, is all that wise, powerful, and benevolent?
I see a failure to engage, in this debate, on the issue of what is
really going on.
If, hypothetically, one of the other religious groups moved to erect,
out of concrete and steel, 103' tall, a religious work on a mountain
overlooking a city, but they claimed that it wasn't really a religious
symbol but a work of art or history or an emblem of either a common or
universal culture, wouldn't you expect the cross-building types to ask
what is really going on here? Wouldn't they say that we ought to be
able clearly to see through such claims as window-dressing, sham
arguments to get the thing built and to keep it there in the face of the
policy that government is not supposed to be in the religion business
It would certainly be interesting to see why the proponents of such
public religious observances feel that they are not religious at all,
you see, but fight like hell when asked to please cut it out, they're
infringing on the right of people who don't share their views to be let
Is there something about addressing this question that is taboo?
I say let's break this taboo.
After all, this is America and we ought to be able to speak of such things.
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