Yesterday’s oral arguments did generate a healthy dose of media interest in Salazar v. Buono, which asks whether a cross erected as a memorial within a California national park is constitutional.
In a New York Times piece titled “Religion Largely Absent in Argument About Cross,” Adam Liptak reports that none of the justices except Antonin Scalia pursued the question whether the cross violates the Establishment Clause’s separation of religion and state. Instead, the discussion revolved around whether the government’s transfer of the land beneath the cross to private hands preempted any constitutional infraction. Robert Barnes at the Washington Post notes that Salazar is the Court’s first opportunity to weigh in on the Establishment Clause under the leadership of Chief Justice Roberts. The replacement of retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who grew increasingly protective of the separation of religion and state during her tenure, with Justice Samuel Alito, who at yesterday’s argument seemed to accept the transfer of land beneath the cross to private ownership as a solution to any constitutional problem, could signal a shift in the Court’s stance. USA Today focuses on a divide revealed during the argument between the most conservative justices on the Court, who seemed satisfied with the government’s proposals, and the most liberal, who remained more skeptical; Justice Kennedy, however, did not “tip his hat.” The Los Angeles Times and Christian Science Monitor offer their own coverage. All five of the stories above highlight a testy exchange between Justice Scalia and ACLU lawyer Peter Eliasberg about the symbolism of crosses in general: Scalia remarked that “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead,” while Eliasberg countered that the cross is “the predominant symbol of Christianity.” NPR cleanly summarizes the history of the case and the questions at issue.
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate:
There’s just one person at oral argument in Salazar v. Buono this morning who really wants to talk about whether a 5-foot cross on federal government land in the Mojave National Preserve violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. But Justice Antonin Scalia really, really wants to talk about it. He looks particularly queasy when Peter Eliasberg—the ACLU lawyer whose client objects to crosses on government land—suggests partway through the morning that perhaps a less controversial World War I memorial might consist of “a statue of a soldier which would honor all of the people who fought for America in World War I and not just the Christians.”
“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. But that’s why these religion cases are always such fun. We believe what we need to believe.
Is anyone really damaged by seeing the 10 Commandments displayed on a government building? Are any of you offended when you see a Christmas tree in a public square? When the White House hosts an Easter egg hunt each year, as well as iftar dinner and menorah lighting? Are your feelings hurt because we have national holidays that are Christian?
Religious expression is part of this nation’s history. The jihadist crusade of the ACLU and militant secular extremists is beyond reason in its successful attacks over the last several decades against public expression of Christian traditions and national heritage that has been a part of this country’s 200-plus year history.
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.
UPDATE: Jonathan Kulick
UPDATE #2: Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit
UPDATE #3: Rod Dreher
UPDATE #4: Instapundit
Jason Arvak at Moderate Voice