Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 8, 2009

THE UNAMBIGUOUS MEANING OF A CROSS.... Thee U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case called Buono v. Salazar, the year's big church-state case. The controversy surrounds a large white, wooden cross, built to honor the war dead of World War I, given special congressional status on federal land. Lower courts found the display unconstitutional -- official endorsement of religion conflicts with the First Amendment -- but given the high court's makeup, civil libertarians are concerned about the possible ruling and implications.

So, how did yesterday's session go? At one point, the ACLU's Peter Eliasberg suggested a preferable memorial would honor all veterans of the war, "and not just the Christians." Justice Antonin Scalia found this outrageous.

"The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war?" Scalia asks, stunned.

"A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins," replies Eliasberg, whose father and grandfather are both Jewish war veterans.

"It's erected as a war memorial!" replies Scalia. "I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of ... of ... of the resting place of the dead."

Eliasberg dares to correct him: "The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew."

"I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead the cross honors are the Christian war dead," thunders Scalia. "I think that's an outrageous conclusion!"

Far less outrageous is the conclusion that religious symbols are not religious.

And that's what it boils down to. Antonin Scalia, a devout Roman Catholic, wants to protest the notion that the symbol of Christianity is somehow inherently religious.

This is surprisingly common among conservative Christians who seek government sponsorship. The Ten Commandments, they say, aren't really religious, so there's no problem with the government promoting them. Creches (representations of the Nativity) aren't really religious, so there's no problem with the government promoting them, either. Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas have been watered down so much, they can be official government holidays without any trouble at all.

The goal, in each instance, is to ensure official, legal support for their faith. If that means stripping the major aspects of Christianity of their spiritual significance, so be it.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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Comments

If the cross weren't clearly and unambiguously a religious symbol, Christians wouldn't get so exercised about its display.

Posted by: Lynn Dee on October 8, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

And some people actually consider Scalia a great intellect.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on October 8, 2009 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Antonin Scalia is pure evil. He believes that psychotics have the constitutional right to sell videos of housecats being doused in gasoline and lit on fire, but he doesn't believe that homosexuals have any expectation to equal treatment under the law.

Posted by: Jack on October 8, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

That's like saying the McDonald's symbol doesn't symbolize McDonalds. It symbolizes ALL fast food restaurants! Well, tell that to Burger King. Devout Burger King eaters would greatly disagree.

Scalia is a joke.

Posted by: Hank on October 8, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

OH COME ON!

Thank you, that is all.

Posted by: Jane on October 8, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Part II is when they later on point to these symbols as proof that the US is a Christian country. It's like the "In God we trust" motto. When challenged as endorsement of religion, they claim it's just pretty words. But when facing the charge that the US is not a Christian country, they point to "In God we trust" as proof that it is.

Posted by: Christopher on October 8, 2009 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

"The cross is the most common symbol of ... of ... of the resting place of the dead."

That's so lame. Self-serving Cristian logic. Classic.

Posted by: JJC on October 8, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Scalia is an Activist.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on October 8, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK
MAN #1: I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.'

JESUS: ...right prevail.

MRS. GREGORY: Ahh, what's so special about the cheesemakers?

GREGORY: Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

Posted by: ed on October 8, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Pulling the devil's tail...

Sounds like he might go postal if someone burned crosses or bibles in front of him.
Any takers?
Just for the hell of it?

Posted by: koreyel on October 8, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

See, these guys have no problem with Christian symbolism in public places is because they see Christianity as the only "true" religion. Every other religion on the planet is of the devil. Therefore, it only makes sense for the United States to overtly recognize Christianity, put it's symbols in public places, etc. The idea that, say, Cheondoism, is entitled to the same level of respect to which they feel entitled makes no sense to them.

Posted by: Doctor Whom on October 8, 2009 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Easter isn't a federal holiday. But Good Friday is observed by our city government.

Posted by: Dave Martin on October 8, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

This is not uncommon thinking among some Christians. The International Red Cross bars Israel because they use the Star of David as their symbol - because that's a religious symbol, but the cross in Red Cross is not (and the Red Crescent?). In other words, MY symbols are universal - yours are narrowly religious.

Posted by: Nothing But the Ruth on October 8, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Scalia is a fundamentalist hack and an anti-social psychotic. I can see a lazy, apathetic, stupid president nominating him, but for the life of me do not understand why he was confirmed as he was.

Posted by: jcricket on October 8, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

So I guess that gold cross around Scalia's neck is a memorial to the dead?

Posted by: Christopher on October 8, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think Scalia has a point. The sorry reality of America is that the conservatives, like Scalia, have stripped the Christian content off the cross. It has become a symbol not of Christ but of what Brother Sully calls "Christianism," which is hateful, manipulative, intolerant and the exact opposite of what Christ taught.

Posted by: thaumaturgist on October 8, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

This and the news about Justice Sotomayor asking more questions than Clarence in the last two years are the best stories out of the Supreme Court ever. Appointed for life? Fine. Exposed as charlatans or rubes? Justice.

Posted by: dannyshenanigan on October 8, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

There's two problems with Scalia's argument as I see it:

1. How can he be certain the cross honors soldiers who sacrificed their lives in WWI war dead. The cross is also a KKK symbol of terror in many parts of the country.

2. If the cross honors all war dead, including atheists, then it's a secular symbol, not a religious one. If that's the case why not put crosses in every courthouse and classroom?

From "SCOTUS: The Musical"

"Many a thing you know you'd like to tell him
Many a thing he ought to understand
But how do you make him stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

How do you solve a problem like Scalia?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?"

Posted by: pj in jesusland on October 8, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

The ICRC adopted the symbol as a reverse of the Swiss flag (the Red Cross movement was born there) and the original intent was to symbolise a bandage. They screwed up by allowing the Red Crescent, and they know it. That's why they are so intent on not accepting any more religious symbols.

There was even talk of turning the + into an x, but that has connotations of being crossed out...

Posted by: Saint Fnordius on October 8, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

The diversity crowd meets the dual loyalty crowd.

Posted by: LindaRe on October 8, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

It's not "Federal Land". The land was transferred to a private organization in a land swap. The issue here is not whether crosses should be displayed on federal land, but whether the land swap is legitimate.

Posted by: Bill Smugs on October 8, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

I love Lithwick's reporting and writing, but I may have to stop reading her coverage of oral arguments. Between the animal abuse films case and this cross case, it is hard to maintain any respect for the Court: the questions and banter seem wildly unserious, like this is all a game to them. I find it very disturbing.

Posted by: zeitgeist on October 8, 2009 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

My first thought in response to such obvious nonsense is, "don't loons like Scalia understand the logical consequences of the argument they are making? Doesn't he see the end game if the symbols of his religion are stripped of their religious significance?"

But my second thought shakes that reverie: Loons like Scalia don't CARE about the logical consequences of their arguments, because they simply have no use for logical consistency: they will argue that black is white today, and the converse tomorrow if it suits their immediate needs to do so. Reductio ad absurdum is an argument that may be used BY him, but not AGAINST him.

Posted by: BLue Meme on October 8, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Scalia is a man who dwells close to his own seething anger if he is able to be outraged by that seemingly logical assertion. Say, didn't we used to have a belief that our judges and justices tried to be impartial while listening to cases? He sure sounds like he came to the bench that day with a pre-judged opinion. (Sadly as usual for Scalia, but worth noting in passing.)

I wonder if he realizes that, in a different time, people like him would have declared the claim that the cross meant nothing religious to be blasphemers.

Of course, if the erectors had been more advanced carpenters, and built a six-pointed star instead, Scalia would see THAT as indisputably religious, with no BS about it memorializing ALL the dead.


Posted by: biggerbox on October 8, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Sweet bleeding Jesus, Scalia is a douche.

Posted by: kc on October 8, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

I'm a longtime atheist and a regular contributor to Americans United for Separation of Church and State ... and yet I always hope our side loses cases like this.

The problem is, you simply cannot get most Americans to comprehend the separation argument -- I don't mean agree with it, I mean comprehend it. It's beyond ignorance -- it's like some sort of aphasia. Americans just can't get their brains top grasp the notion that everyone in America isn't Christian, and that's OK, and that Christianity isn't normative. Scalia is just (alas) representing those people.

Every time we win a victory on one of these cases, even if it's clearly going to be overturned by a higher court, these people just hate us morew and more. They don't learn. There's no attempt to wrestle with the thinking behind the decision. There's no learning curve -- none. There's just hate, and a redoubled effort to get back at us.

Posted by: Steve M. on October 8, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Intellectual my rear! Scalia is a hack, plain and simple. He is the very definition of an activist judge. That is why the right-wingers love him.

I see now why he doesn't want cameras in the court or at his speaking engagements. He should follow Thomas' lead and just STFU!

What an arrogant buffoon. He is an embarrassment to the Court and the American judicial system.

Posted by: GiggsisGod on October 8, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Eliasberg should be careful or he might be invited to a duck hunt with "Crazy-man" Scalia and "Dead-shot" Cheney.

Posted by: stevio on October 8, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

And that's what it boils down to. Antonin Scalia, a devout Roman Catholic, wants to protest the notion that the symbol of Christianity is somehow inherently religious.

That's not what he said. He's arguing that the cross is a religious symbol, but that it honors all dead, not just Christian dead.

Which is also a remarkably stupid position to take. As some above have pointed out, he thinks Christianity is the default religion, just as he thinks being white and male are the default demographics.

Posted by: shortstop on October 8, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

"He believes that psychotics have the constitutional right to sell videos of housecats being doused in gasoline and lit on fire..."

Or rather, he believes that the 1st Amendment bars Congress from deciding which videos are legitimate speech and which are criminal.

ComradeAnon is on the right track, I think. Scalia's logical inconsistency is that he's suggesting the meaning of the cross evolves over time, from Christian symbol to universal symbol (which it has, in a way, or if it hasn't yet, it could in the future). This from the man who believes the Constitution means what the 18th century drafters intended and nothing more.

Posted by: Grumpy on October 8, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

So, the graves in Arlington that are represented with a cross are all christians? I know the Star of David is represented there, but what symbol is used for atheists? I've been to Arlington and I only recall seeing crosses and the Star of David.

Posted by: Schtick on October 8, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Steve M: I'm a Christian and I get it. And I think most liberal Christians get it. We believe in a country where the right to believe or not believe was our founder's intent. I no more want someone telling me I must follow their brand of whatever belief system than I wish to make everyone follow mine.

Scalia is dead wrong here, but it is illustrative of a major problem we have in the USofA. The cross *is* a symbol of Christianity, not all religions nor of the dead.

Someone mentioned Christmas and Easter being secularized, which is true. Those who aren't Christian (and many who are) don't necessarily get that. A former (non-religious) co-worker once asked our Jewish co-worker "Don't you celebrate Easter?" thinking of bunnies and eggs rather than Easter as a commemoration and celebration of Jesus' victory over death. Of course the answer was no.

Posted by: Hannah on October 8, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Priest: How come i haven't seen you at church?
Kyle: I'm Jewish?
Priest: Not too Jewish to worship Christ, Are You?

Posted by: benjoya on October 8, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Scalia going on the sort of rant in oral arguments that is intellectually the equivalent of what you'd get from the cranky old fart in a social club is hardly news. The only question is, what does Kennedy think?

Posted by: dr. bloor on October 8, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Schtick: #16

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org/funeral_information/authorized_emblems.html

Posted by: Phalamir on October 8, 2009 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

A believer in each of the world's religions found themselves in a Waiting Room.

One said: "My God's better than your god."
Another said:"No, he isn't; mine is the True God."

Words turned to deeds, and they all killed each other in a Holy War.

The only survivor, an Agnostic, became an Atheist. . .

Posted by: DAY on October 8, 2009 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

That's not what he said. He's arguing that the cross is a religious symbol, but that it honors all dead, not just Christian dead.

The assumption being that Jews, Muslims, and atheists should appreciate those thoughtful, benevolent Christians. It's like whistling at a lady crossing the street and then getting offended when she shoots you the bird.

Posted by: Christopher on October 8, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

I think Steve M. is spot on. When the right loses, whether it be an election or a legal argument, they throw a hissy-fit rather than attempt some understanding or honest reflection.

A good example is the reaction of gay-rights opponents after the Iowa Supreme Court handed down it's unanimous decision striking down the state law denying marriage equality. Even though it was a very thorough and detailed opinion endorsed by even the conservative members of the court, the right had their customary melt-down. Rather than read the opinion and try to understand it compared to our state Constitution, they screamed "ACTIVIST COURT!", and "ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY!" and thus showing their inability and/or unwillingness to understand basic civics.

Posted by: GiggsisGod on October 8, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Schtick, the question isn't whether a cross can be used for some non-Christians, it's whether a cross can be used to represent everyone. The fact that there are Stars of David suggests that there are some people who don't think a cross is an appropriate representation for them. Btw, here is a list of symbols on headstones at Arlington, including one for atheist. Here is a picture of a grave with a crescent. Obviously, most of them are Jewish or Christian, but the fact that you didn't see other symbols doesn't mean they aren't there, as I assume you only saw a small proportion of all of the graves.

Posted by: ibid on October 8, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Exactly, Christopher. Look, non-Christians, why not just accept the good will that Nino and his buddies are gracious enough to extend to your dead? It's not like they had to do it, being the majority and all.

He's repulsive and getting more so every year.

Posted by: shortstop on October 8, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

As intelligent as he truly is, Antonin Scalia is unfortunately also a bombastic, dogmatic bully at heart, whose adherence to a rigid ideology forever precludes him from seeing the forest for the trees. Pity ...

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on October 8, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Christians and Scalia. I say he and they can all go to hell. Luckily in this case those most likely to be offended by the pagan symbol are dead and thus do not care. Scalia is an unhinged archeological mishap who if ever was impaled with or upon a cross would have no mourning of his demise by anyone.

Posted by: The Galloping Trollop on October 8, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

When was this cross built?

My general point of view on issues like this is to fight against new public displays like this, but not to go back and undo older displays that were acceptable at the time they were built.

It just seems much more practical to me...

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy on October 8, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

The bottom line is that Scalia is a crazy person, and should have been removed from office one way or another a long time ago. Americans should be ashamed that an obvious someone who is very obviously mentally ill is allowed to serve on the court. I don't care how high his IQ is, someone needs to force his ass into retirement or make sure he has a heart-attack or something.

Normally, I'd just suggest that he gets help. However, as a SC justice, his continued term in office represents a danger to the United States.

Posted by: soullite on October 8, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Reading Scalia's comments really makes me wonder at the process of vetting supreme court justices. What are we thinking, nominating people of such questionable credentials and dubious mental capability ?

Posted by: rbe1 on October 8, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Scalia can go sit on his Secular Cross !!

Can that misfit be impeached??
He hasn't a clue what the USC First amendment is.

Posted by: cwolf on October 8, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

THE CROSS IS NOT ON FEDERAL LANDS!!!!!!!11!!!

The cross was built on private land late acquired by the federal government. When ACLU complained, Congress transferred the acre of land the cross was on to private ownership in exchange for FIVE ACRES of land donated by a different PRIVATE OWNER who also had land within the reserve.

The case is about where the land transfer was unconstitutional or not. The question is whether exchanging the 1 acre for 5 acres for the purpose of protecting the cross is valid or not. It was originally ruled in valid because it created a hole in the public land. But they plugged another hole with the 5 acres.

Posted by: MNPundit on October 8, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Ask any Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucian, atheist, or any other non-Christian if they'd want a cross on their tombstone. The answer will be universally "No."

Posted by: Charles on October 8, 2009 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Hanah - As an atheist-raised-christian, I still glady celebrate Easter and Christmas, but with extra sacrilege if possible. It's completely possible to celebrate holidays secularly, but the religious connotations still prevent people of other religions from celebrating it, hence it's religious. But it's on a borderline for sure.

I was very depressed to see that the symbol for atheism is from a 50's "Capatain Atom" comic book. We need to get that fixed.

And something everyone has missed so far: why is religion so important that it is one of the three things that MUST be on our headstones? Isn't that ITSELF a state endorsement of religion?

I'm an atheist, but I don't think it's anywhere near the most important thing about me or my life. But if I died a soldier, my life would be boiled down to an atheist symbol in a never-ending turf war in necropolis. Why is it so important? Do we think the gods can't find their own people?

Posted by: inkadu on October 8, 2009 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Does Scalia think that Christians would feel included or excluded if someone erected a Star of David memeorial to honor the all war dead?

Posted by: 57Kevin on October 8, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an atheist, but I don't think it's anywhere near the most important thing about me or my life. But if I died a soldier, my life would be boiled down to an atheist symbol in a never-ending turf war in necropolis.

Surely there is the option of no symbol on your stone? I believe I've seen an awful lot of military graves without symbols, but now I don't know if I'm remembering right.

Posted by: shortstop on October 8, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

The idea that putting up a cross and saying it honors "all the war dead" means it is not a religious symbol is hilarious. Does that mean I can put Jesus Christ up on that cross and it still isn't a religious symbol because I say it's not?

Look, if you want to honor the war dead, you don't have to use the Cross, the Crescent, the Star of David, or any other religious symbol. There are thousands of memorials, probably tens of thousands, across the globe which confirm this.

Posted by: Joshua on October 8, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

RIDICULOUS. When I wear my cross, I know exactly what it represents. To say otherwise means you're delusional, a complete moron, or both.

Posted by: J on October 8, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Unbelievable. I won't say Scalia is unintelligent. However, this is the stupidest and most arrogant statement I have seen come out of a judge's mouth in a long time. Bravo to the lawyer who pointed out the jewish cemetery example.

Posted by: Wade on October 8, 2009 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, the case doesn't involve a large wooden cross. It involves a 6 1/2 foot high (not large by monument standards) and is made of steel painted white. Perhaps you're thinking of the 1930's cross which was wooden and I believe may have been smaller.

By definition, the Red Cross's cross is not a Christian cross which has various definitions, but essentially is four bars at perpendicular angles with the stem being the longest. The Red Cross's cross is four bars of equal length intersecting at the center.

But the real point, and the discussion has been right on, is Justice Scalia's blind spot when it comes to his interpretation of the Constitution permitting government to favor Christianity over all other religions. Damn, he just can't see the forest for that big fat Christian tree in front of him.

Posted by: Bob Ritter on October 8, 2009 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

It's Christians that should be really upset about this. He's insinuating that the cross has not religious significance to them so he can rule the way he wants. Sounds a bit selfish to me.

Posted by: Victor on October 8, 2009 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, how will poor Justice Sotomayor ever compete with an intellect like Scalia's?

Posted by: m. croche on October 8, 2009 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure why this is such a big issue. Arlington National Cemetery is federal land on which crosses have been routinely erected as or engraved upon grave markers of individual soldiers. So what's the big deal about periodically allowing the replacement by a private organization of a single cross to commemorate the Christian soldiers who died in WWI? Government funded crosses on federal land are acceptable for individual soldiers, but privately financed ones constitution action toward the establishment of a state religion?

Hunh???

Personally, I don’t much care whether the cross stays or goes and I would certainly consider a more inclusive memorial to the sacrifices of ALL who died in the war to be a far more noble tribute, but I simply don't see how the cross in question raises any serious constitutional issues.

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

People like Scalia give religion a bad name. It's just hard to be show much empathy with other opinions when you hear the Almighty God of the Universe whispering personal orders in your ear.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on October 8, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

A quick correction...I believe that the crosses at Arlington are mostly inscribed on the headstones and that actual free standing crosses mostly preate the First Worls War.

In any case, I guess the Argonne Cross will have to go too...

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org/visitor_information/Argonne_Cross.html

...also, the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice - damned Cannucks!

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org/visitor_information/Canadian_Cross.html

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

...of course nothing I have written should be miscontrued to imply that Scalia s anything but a massive ass-hat.

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Scalia has a point. Like "aspirin" and "xerox", many Christian symbols have become, through common usage, generic expressions not connected to religion.

For example, most of the world reckons dates Anno Domini (although Ivory-tower types try to mask this with "CE".) What was once an implicit acknowledgement of faith is now used by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Christmas has also been commercialized to the point that in many cases it has no religious significance. I would even bet that many atheists use Christian words when swearing.

Posted by: J Story on October 8, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Personally, I dont much care whether the cross stays or goes and I would certainly consider a more inclusive memorial to the sacrifices of ALL who died in the war to be a far more noble tribute, but I simply don't see how the cross in question raises any serious constitutional issues."

Uh, Cheshire, this whole battle started because a Buddhist group asked the Park Service if they could erect a Buddhist shrine next to the cross. The Park Service said no.

Also, allowing one religious display on public land and banning all others not only raises a constitutional issue, it has been and continues to be an issue that has been so firmly settled that, rather than challenge it, Congress gave the park land away in order to get around it. And that's what's at stake in this court case.

Posted by: not a gator on October 8, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

gator, I apologize, I should have elaborated my point and made it clear that, while I don't see any constitutional problem with allowing the continued presence of the cross on federal land, I DO see a HUGE constitutional problem with the Park Service's denial of permission to the Buddhist group to erect tehir own shrine. That sort of preferential treatment of one religion over other IS unconstitutional and would best be remedied by granting the Buddhists permission that had been unjustly denied.

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

All the war memorials I saw while traveling across Europe were obelisks or statues of soldiers. I don't remember any that were crosses. A lot did have one cross or another on them (there are different crosses denoting different denominations) but never in the shape of one. At least none that I saw, and I saw a lot of them.
Why is it that even the Europeans, both the cradle of institutional Christianity and littered with battlefields more numerous to count, know the difference between a religious symbol and a memorial to soldiers and war dead but we can't.

Posted by: Greg on October 8, 2009 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a moderate on most issues except for health care and Wall Street where I want to see radical overhauls (single payer, though I know I'm dreaming) and prison for many of the people who selfishly helped destroy our economy. But I have to say that I would leave this WW 2 cross in place. To me this is far different from the Ten Commandments in stone on a courthouse lawn or (remember that Southern judge) inside the courthouse where people could come to pray every day. I'm all for making all religions equal in the eyes of the law--which is to say none can cavort on public lands--but I do think we should make an exception here.

Posted by: ed gorman on October 8, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

"The goal, in each instance, is to ensure official, legal support for their faith. If that means stripping the major aspects of Christianity of their spiritual significance, so be it."

i'm an athiest, so maybe i just don't get it, but that seems like blasphemy to me.
i mean, if you're willing to strip all of the meaning behind your symbols, aren't you saying that your belief system is shallow and available for sale? and isn't that tantamount to discrediting your whole belief system??

i'm confused.

Posted by: els on October 8, 2009 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, els pretty much nailed it on the head. You see, Christ's teachings are full of all sorts of "inconvenient" little details...things like loving our neighbors, caring for the poor and sick, turning the other cheek, not storing up riches in this world - you know, "socialism!"

Well, America sure won't go for that, so instead, we practice our own unique form of Christianity which omits Christ's teachings altogether and uses him as a sort of hyper-nationalist, crime fighting American superhero who hates the French and homos...and poor people 'cuz they're lazy and deserve what they get. The first step in the process, however, is to suck the meaning out of all the symbols, practices and holidays.

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

See, this is the same problem as the so-called "war on Christmas." Idiots like Scalia and BillO want to take what belongs to Christianity and dilute it by spreading it as thin as possible all over the public square. Christians ought to be offended by the whole conversation, since the same idiots decry the secularization of public discourse while secularizing Christian religious symbols just as fast as their little mouths can spit out platitudes.

Posted by: Harlow Wilcox on October 8, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm a longtime atheist and a regular contributor to Americans United for Separation of Church and State ... and yet I always hope our side loses cases like this.

The problem is, you simply cannot get most Americans to comprehend the separation argument -- I don't mean agree with it, I mean comprehend it. It's beyond ignorance -- it's like some sort of aphasia. Americans just can't get their brains top grasp the notion that everyone in America isn't Christian, and that's OK, and that Christianity isn't normative. Scalia is just (alas) representing those people.

Every time we win a victory on one of these cases, even if it's clearly going to be overturned by a higher court, these people just hate us morew and more. They don't learn. There's no attempt to wrestle with the thinking behind the decision. There's no learning curve -- none. There's just hate, and a redoubled effort to get back at us."

It is ignorance like this which bends over backwards to kiss the ass of religion that is a major issue. I guess anyone even an idiot can be an atheist. White christian male slave owners, who commonly got then selves black 'putang', clearly hated anyone who desired their god given right to own other humans.

Neo Nazi skinheads often act out violently against anyone who would dare challenge their right to free speech. They often are shocked when we suggest it is not acceptable do drag black men behind your F150 as their skin is slowly scraped and melted off their body - after all it is just a black person.

I am equally sure people who supported Hitler were enraged when it was suggested they must stop slaughtering innocent Jewish men women and children. Many were enraged to the point(hundreds of thousands of them) they were willing to give their lives fighting on the side of Hitler.

Posted by: Tony Schwartz on October 8, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

pj, that was the best.

How do you solve a problem like Scalia? You vote for Dems for President and wait until he's so outnumbered that he and Thomas become a tag-team of obsolescence in the footnotes of history.

Posted by: Cal Gal on October 8, 2009 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

If that were truly the case, then why wouldn't a Muslim crescent do just as good a job of honoring all the war dead as a Christian cross?

Posted by: What on October 8, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal is right, of course, but I think the percentage of the electorate that seriously considers Supreme Court appointments when choosing a President is very small. I remember telling folks, "I don't want my daughters' civil liberties to depend on a Reagan-appointed Supreme Court." I don't believe many people found that persuasive.

Posted by: MikeyM on October 8, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal, the problem is its not just Scalia and Thomas anymore. It's Alito and Roberts too.

Which makes your plan twice as difficult. Still, it's a start. I don't even want to think about the sort of craven, power-worshipping wingnut McCain would've picked a few months back.

Posted by: Joshua on October 8, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I would hope that a wise Jewish man, with the richness of his experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.

Posted by: JW on October 8, 2009 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Someone mentioned Christmas and Easter being secularized, which is true."

Uh, not exactly.

Non-christian celebrations of the winter solstice ("Christmas") and the spring equinox ("Easter") were appropriated by the christians in order to allow the newly converted to keep their old celebrations.

Nice try, though.

Posted by: Sarah Barracuda on October 8, 2009 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is a good example of why we need a semantic difference between "smart" and "intelligent."

I don't know if Scalia has a high IQ, but even if he does, there is no intelligence in his assertion AT ALL. "Intelligence" should imply some ability to understand and use logical concepts, to recognize inconsistencies in your thinking, and avoid them. It implies some rigor in thinking.

Scalia shows none of these traits. If he ever HAD the ability to use them, he gave that up when he got to the SCOTUS and could say any darned thing he wanted and make it the law of the land.

A wanna be Napoleon if you ask me. Good thing there are 7 other justices who have a chance to think (not including mini-scalia).

Posted by: Cal Gal on October 8, 2009 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

> I would even bet that many atheists use Christian words when swearing.

You're God Damn right we do. That's because they are curse words! It's only blasphemy if you believe. Jesus!

And no, most of the world does not use AD. THat's why there are separate calendars for muslim, jewish, chinese, etc..

Posted by: royalblue_tom on October 8, 2009 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Non-christian celebrations of the winter solstice ("Christmas") and the spring equinox ("Easter") were appropriated by the christians in order to allow the newly converted to keep their old celebrations."

Uh, not exactly the case either. Christians never celebrated the turning of the seasons, they appropriated the approximate dates for various reasons, but were not celebrating a solstice nor an equinox. They were celebrating the birth and resurrection of Christ.

Modern Americans - including many or even most Christians - celebrate the trappings of Christmas and Easter, but largely ignore their meanings.

They may not have been completely secularized, but their religious significance is diminished in our culture.

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

The term "Easter" is 100% pagan, Shesire11, and has no Christian meaning whatsoever. A celebration involving magical rabbits and the hiding of eggs in springtime is also pretty darn pagan. The case for Christian appropriation of this holiday is airtight.

Christmas is a tougher case. The name is obviously Christian. But, again, for most of us, the trappings of the holiday (gift giving, decorating homes with evergreen plants, magical animals, etc.) are either entirely secular or quite possibly pagan in origin.

The point is not that Christians were not celebrating the birth and death of Christ--it's that they took existing holidays and said, oh, from now on this holiday we've had for the last 1000 years . . . from now on it's about Jesus because we said so.

Posted by: Rob Mac on October 8, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

It’s a pretty trivial matter to get worked up about, but…Um, no Rob, sorry, the celebrations are of very specific events central to the Christian religion. The timing of the celebrations and the trappings are mostly incidentals.

The early church did not "appropriate" pagan celebrations, but expressed the celebration of elements of Christianity in terms familiar to the pre-Christian populations of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. It's called "inculturation" it goes on all of the time. It’s the process of expressing unfamiliar ideas in culturally relevant terms to facilitate better understanding and fewer misunderstandings, much as teachers often use analogies to convey difficult concepts to their students. That’s why ancient Christian shrines in Europe tend to occupy groves sacred to the Celtic or Germanic tribes. The people were accustomed to associate holiness with that particular grove or well and so the missionaries built their shrines there, communicating that what was contained therein was worthy of reverence. When the local peoples turned away from paganism in favor of the new religion. It was not because someone pulled a bait and switch on them or “appropriated” anything. They were aware of two distinct religions and chose one over the other for any one of a number of reasons ranging from conviction to coercion to superstition, but it was not because they were tricked or had their holidays taken away from them.

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

If it makes you feel any better, the Romans called it Pascha resurrectionis, the Russians call it pashka, the French call it Paques, the Spanish call it Pascua, all of which were "appropriated," not from Germanic pagans, but from the Aramaic "pesach", which means "Passover."

So you see, we really stole it from the Jews, not the pagans, but that's an old story.

Posted by: Chesire11 on October 8, 2009 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Help me out here: is the cross in question on private or public land?

Posted by: Pully Bulpit on October 8, 2009 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

I have a nice bottle of Barolo, saved up specially for the day Scalia passes away. If that day happens when there is a Democrat in the White House, I may chug the bottle in one gulp.

I hope that many more barristers before the SCOTUS get Scalia's blood up as did this one; it would be fitting if he passes away right before the eyes of the court he has tainted for so long.

And if anyone asks me to rescind these wishes, as offensive, UP THEIR'S. Scalia is an offense to rational human beings everywhere. He is a despicable sentient; I won't even give him the dignity of calling him a "human being."

Fuck him.

Posted by: SteveGinIL on October 8, 2009 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Giggsisgod and Steve M: Yes, about what the Right just is incapable of learning.

My favorite on that point is 9/11. I thought two things would come from that. I saw it as blow-back, and I thought people would begin to ask, "WHY would 19 guys sacrifice themselves to strike at us? What did we do that could have motivated them like that?"

I sincerely thought people would start to look at the CIA and black ops and realize the nasty things we've been doing around the world. In fact, my split-second reaction to 9/11 was, "No shit, Sherlock!"

But the reaction was very Scalia-like: Intimidate the hell out of everyone and lash out at anyone and everyone, using 2,800 dead New Yorkers as an excuse to go postal on the world.

(The second thing I thought would come from 9/11 was that heads would roll, from the failures by the intelligence and Defense communities.)

Posted by: SteveGinIL on October 8, 2009 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Help me out here: is the cross in question on private or public land?

Posted by: Pully Bulpit"

I haven't read the case details, but from what folks have said, it seems to go something like this:

Cross is on public land, in a park that has both privately and publicly owned parts to it.

Buddist group asks if they can have a shrine in the park.

They get told "Nu-uh!". They point out there's already a Christian symbol on the public land.

Presumably knowing they couldn't win that argument, the public body in charge of the park makes a deal with someone who owns private land in the park, and swaps the land the cross is on for some other land that was privately owned.

They then go "Look, it's not on public land any more!" (despite the fact it's still in a park), and therefore they don't have to allow the shrine.

Response is "You gotta be kidding me, that can't be right" and it goes to the courts.

THEN, later on, when it reaches the Supreme Court, Scalia starts claiming that a cross isn't a religious symbol if it's there for dead soldiers.

Posted by: Draxar on October 9, 2009 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

Oddly enough, the Justice—while not exactly having a valid point—hits upon a truism in that the cross was never a christian symbol until the sect was employed in military iconography with an explicit comparison to a sword.

Posted by: jhm on October 9, 2009 at 7:16 AM | PERMALINK

Does this cross Christianize all the war dead similar to the Mormon practice of baptizing the dead? Yup.

Posted by: Arthur on October 9, 2009 at 7:25 AM | PERMALINK

My favorite example of the great intellect of Scalia is his fear that the Lawrence case (striking down sodomy laws) will make it impossible for states to criminalize masturbation.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-102.ZD.html

"State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers validation of laws based on moral choices."

Posted by: RobNYNY1957 on October 9, 2009 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Since the cross is not a symbol of Christianity, then Jesus is neither, and is simply a universal symbol of peace and love. Therefore I think that we should mandate a prayer to Jesus for all school children, since it would not be Unconstitutional.

QED

* Does anyone else see a reason here for diversity on the Court?

Posted by: Marc on October 9, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Scalia's right, the Cross isn't a symbol of Christ, it's a symbol of brutal torture and execution from the Bronze ages.

If Christ had died 500 years ago we'd be arguing about a giant Gallows memorializing the dead.

If Christ had died 50 years ago we'd be arguing about a giant electric chair.

I think symbols of torture are not super appropriate to remember anything. What's wrong with "The Undying Flame" or "The Unknown Soldier" or a half-mast flag?

Posted by: Orion on October 26, 2009 at 3:26 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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