From the Associated Press August 18th, 2010
SALT LAKE CITY — The 14 crosses erected along Utah roads to commemorate fallen state Highway Patrol troopers convey a state preference for Christianity and are a violation of the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.
The ruling reverses a 2007 decision by a federal district judge that said the crosses communicate a secular message about deaths and were not a public endorsement of religion. It’s the latest in a recent rash of mixed-bag rulings on the public use of crosses.
A three-judge panel from Denver’s 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its 38-page ruling that a “reasonable observer” would conclude that the state and the Utah Highway Patrol were endorsing Christianity with the cross memorials.
“This may lead the reasonable observer to fear that Christians are likely to receive preferential treatment from the UHP,” the justices wrote.
The 12-foot high white crosses with 6-foot horizontal crossbars are affixed with the patrol’s beehive logo and a biography of the deceased trooper.
First erected in 1998, monuments were paid for with private funds and erected only with the permission of the troopers’ families. Nearly all of the 14 crosses are on public land.
Two men behind the cross project have said they selected crosses for the memorials because the image of a cross can simultaneously convey a message of death, remembrance, honor, gratitude and sacrifice.
In 2006, the Utah Legislature passed a joint resolution declaring the cross a nonreligious secular symbol of death.
But American Atheists, Inc., the Texas-based group that sued to have the crosses removed from state property, argued that the crosses could imply that the trooper who died there was a Christian.
Justices agreed and said that while the cross is a widely recognized symbol of death, it is a specific Christian message.
“Unlike Christmas, which has been widely embraced as a secular holiday … there is no evidence in this case that the cross has been widely embraced by non-Christians as a secular symbol of death,” they said.
Breathe in this comment once again, because it is perhaps one of the most chilling statements you will ever witness: “This may lead the reasonable observer to fear that Christians are likely to receive preferential treatment from the UHP,”
Reasonable observer? This is about as reasonable as banning the sale of bread because a diabetic might mistakenly conclude that he was actually purchasing a candy bar.
So now judges make rulings, not based upon what is actually true, but what people might think is true due to an irrational fear.
Just for the record, Americans have looked at crosses as a part of gravestones and memorials for literally centuries without stopping to think about Jesus and the crucifixion. Having said that, supposing the cross did remind us of Jesus? Supposing it reminded us of Jesus every single time? Supposing it was our country’s way of endorsing a specific religion? REALITY CHECK: Our Founding Fathers actually did go out of their way to specifically endorse the religion of Christianity. No, we do not find the term Christian in the constitution, but neither did its omission discourage George Washington from saying “We have no king but King Jesus.” And when Christmas was made a national holiday in 1870 by President Ulysses S. Grant, nobody seemed to feel that their civil liberties were being violated or that the holiday contradicted the original intent of our constitution’s writers.
The First Amendment exists for freedom of religion and freedom from religion. But freedom from religion does not mean our government is not allowed to even remind you that religion exists. If a cross on public display honestly meant that Christian citizens were to receive preferential treatment, I would be the first to protest. But that’s not what it means, and the idea that such symbols must be removed simply because some paranoid person doesn’t understand the constitution, strikes me as a new low in the legal world, the intellectual world, and the world of disenfranchised dogs who are wagged by their own tails.
Ironically, if somebody violated some law they were unaware of, what would they hear in the courtroom? “Ignorance of the law is no excuse. You may have thought that it was perfectly fine to pick a rose from your neighbor’s front lawn but it wasn’t and you will have to pay a penalty.” Get this? Laws cannot be broken based upon ignorance but laws can be passed (through judicial activism) as a means of catering to ignorance. Incidentally, these same brilliant justices felt the ignorance worked both ways. Christmas, supposedly, is still allowed (at least for the time being) as a national holiday because ignorant people associate Christmas with secularism, not with the person whose very name is found in the title; Christ.
Because I grew up as a Jewish atheist, I can honestly attest to walking in the shoes of a non-Christian at a time when our country was not so squeamish about church/state companionship. I saw crosses everywhere, not only in graveyards, but also around the necks of my friends. In elementary school (and I went to a public one) we learned and sang Christmas carols. And it wasn’t limited to those stupid reindeer songs. We also sang about a baby in the manger named, Jesus. I did not believe in Jesus. I thought those who did were gullible and simple minded. Not once did I ever interpret the Christian atmosphere as something that was going to force unwelcome beliefs upon me. The thought never occurred, not even for a second. If somebody wanted to follow some idiotic religion, who cared? It was no skin off my back. I am convinced the reason people are worried about it today is that activists sit them down and explain how concerned they should feel. “This acorn, you see, is not really an acorn. The entire sky is falling.”
What’s next? Will we outlaw the letter “t” because it is shaped like a cross?
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Details of his show can be found at www.bobsiegel.net. Comments to posts are discussed by Bob over the air where anyone is free to call in and respond/debate. Call in toll free number: 1-888-344-1170