Preventing Attacks On Religion
We in modern America must be doing pretty well for ourselves. Otherwise, why would some of us be preoccupied with imagining threats that don’t really exist to our freedom, health and wellbeing?
U.S. Supreme Court justices — seven of the nine, anyway — may be heading toward the conclusion some of us reached years ago. It is that the fastest-growing occupation (or is it recreation?) in the country is Little Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Last week, the high court released its ruling in what has come to be known as the Bladensburg Cross case.
After World War I, some people in Maryland decided they want to express their gratitude to those who served our country in that conflict. So, they erected a 40-foot-tall concrete cross on public property in Bladensburg. At its base are inscribed the names of 49 residents of that area who died in the war.
For decades, no one thought much about the cross. Then, a few years ago, a lawsuit was filed, demanding that it be removed from public property. Three residents of the area, along with the American Humanist Association, filed the action. They insist leaving the cross where it is would be a government endorsement of the Christian faith.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled the cross can stay where it is.
In writing a majority opinion for himself and four other justices, Samuel Alito put his finger on what annoys many people in regards to such situations. Alito commented that, “when time’s passage imbues a religiously expressive monument, symbol or practice with this kind of familiarly and historical significances, removing it may no longer appear neutral.”
In other words, it may appear to be less a defense of separation of church and state than an attack on a specific religion.
“A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion,” Alito added.
Right on the money.
One interesting aspect of the ruling is that the vote wasn’t even close. Just two justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor — disagreed. Some justices normally considered politically and socially liberal were in the majority.
When it comes to the courts, nothing is ever final or even temporarily definitive. So the argument over whether local, state or federal government can have anything to do with religion will persist.
But the high court has struck a powerful blow against those who really do “roam the country” seeking out perceived violations of the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state. Until now, they have had some success in bullying towns into throwing navity scenes off public property, etc. Never mind that such casual linkages between government and religion are not what the writers of the Constitution had in mind — colonial-era laws requiring people to support a specific church financially and penalizing those who didn’t adhere to that faith.
Good for the court majority for recognizing that some “establishment clause” complaints, far from defending freedom of religion, instead are attacks on it — and on common sense.
It’s about time.
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.