God Save the Seals
Photo by Chris McConnell
Judge Larry Burns of the United States District Court of Southern California has rescued the Mt. Soledad cross (for the time being) from the clutches of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. This represents the most substantial courtroom defeat in twenty years for those seeking to have the cross removed. Most residents of San Diego want the cross to remain -- though I suspect even more are simply exhausted by the " long and torturous legal history " leading up to this latest decision. On the other hand, the Mt. Soledad controversy has served as a fascinating backyard lesson in civics and Constitutional law.
I've got two dogs in this fight. I've never known Mt. Soledad without the cross, it pleases the eye and the heart says it belongs. But I also happen to think the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause are the primary reasons the United States is the Land of the Free -- a 43-foot cross on public land troubles the conscience and the mind. And so if ever a judge could muster up the wisdom of Solomon, one would hope it would be Judge Burns. The entire ruling is a fairly entertaining read -- but here are a few choice extracts from Judge Burns' opinion.
"What we see depends on what we look for."
August 04, 2008 at 09:09 PM
Let's put a cross for the soldiers out a Children's pool.. excellent idea.
133 from Hermosa Beach
August 08, 2008 at 09:09 PM
Hey Chris. Love your articles but have one question. Why does Steven Garrett have a picture of him trying to push his chin in with his thumb? He looks scared.
Brad D. from La Mesa
August 10, 2008 at 06:05 PM
Just goes to show that everyone is in favor of freedom of religion, when it's their own religion... after that the numbers drop off substantially. An atheist myself, I'm bothered far less by the cross being there, than the legal contortions of all those trying to keep the cross there.
Matthew C. Scallon
August 13, 2008 at 06:33 PM
In military context, the cross has other meanings than religious. While the cross is used at military gravesites for those deceased who claimed some version of Christianity, the cross also represents valor. Every branch of the military has an award which commends a service member for their bravery which includes on its emblem a cross: the Army Cross, the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps Cross, the Air Force Cross and the Coast Guard Cross. I don't know of any service member who's refused any of these commendations simply because of the symbol on the award. If there be, they are allowed to refuse it. The cross also is used to mark a service member whose missing in action. Anyone who visits the Veteran War Memorial on the Washington Mall will see that names of members whose remains have not been recovered are marked with a cross. If or when those remains are recovered and verified, the cross is changed to a diamond. The tour guides at the Memorial explicitly state that the cross next their names is not a religious symbol. There are other insignias in the military which, if you truly have too much time on your hands, you will find have tangentially religious significance: e.g., the stars on commendations and flag officers are religious symbols in Judaism, wicca, Satanism, and Islam; the eagles on captains' and colonels' shoulders are symbols in Roman mythology. Now, if you are truly concerned about the possibility that someone might consider a cross on a war memorial to be a religious symbol and taxpayers may be required to pay for it, I don't see why you don't have the same level of concern that someone might consider the Serrano's "Piss Christ" and Chris Ofili's "Holy Virgin Mary" to be religious symbols in the same manner (BTW, thanks for re-printing them, because we certainly didn't get to enjoy them enough the first thousand times we saw them). Or, perhaps, does your read of the First Amendment require taxpayers to fund the denegration of someone else's religion but the honoring of the same?
Matthew C. Scallon
August 13, 2008 at 06:36 PM
Correction: the last sentence should end, "...but not the honoring of the same?" And, yeah, it's "who's," not "whose."
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