Last month, in what can only be described as a cowardly criminal act, some unknown person or persons crept into the Mojave Desert under cover of darkness and hacked down a memorial cross honoring veterans. Now, someone is attempting to take credit for the act, and yet, as if to cement their cowardice, doing so anonymously. Here is a simple truth the perpetrators—whoever they are—will never understand: Their actions will not discourage those among us in this fight. To the contrary, it makes us more determined to stay the course.
The particular memorial, first erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1934, has been the subject of intense litigation over the past decade. The case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the claim of an “offended” individual and ruled in favor of the the Department of Justice and veterans organizations.
It was a profound victory honoring both ideals and common sense, but what the ACLU could not achieve in court, others tried to accomplish through criminal stealth. The cross memorial may have been desecrated, but the persons responsible have not “won.” Their peculiar brand of intolerance has already backfired, and the ideals they attempted to destroy will emerge even stronger.
The Supreme Court‘s majority decision strongly affirmed that religious symbols are a cherished part of our culture. A memorial cross is by no means an “establishment of religion,” the preposterous claim of the ACLU lawsuit. Mere common sense and experience teach us this. For example, when you drive past a roadside cross with flowers, what is your first thought? Is it that some person is seeking to establish the Christian religion in America, or is it that a loved one tragically perished and now others are crying out symbolically in mourning and remembrance? It takes the staggering, thin-skinned hypersensitivity of the most easily offended to imagine anything other than the latter.
The desecration of this memorial took place at night, so the perpetrators were hidden from view. That’s a fitting symbol for this sad story. The lawyer representing the offended plaintiff noted during argument that the cross could be cut down, the land transferred back to the VFW, and then the cross replaced. As if recalling the words of Aesop, who once noted, “Beware that you do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow,” Chief Justice John Roberts called the lawyer’s suggestion and “empty ritual” and said, “The Constitution deals with substance, not shadows.”