Had fate shaped the steel beams into any form other than a Christian cross, American Atheists would never think to object to its museum display. The group's visceral hostility to the cross plays a role in a number of continuing controversies:
•In Woonsocket, R.I., the Freedom From Religion Foundation seeks to remove a World War I memorial topped by a cross that has stood without controversy on city property since 1921.
•In the Mojave National Preserve in California, officials are hoping to settle an 11-year dispute over a "desert cross" first erected on Sunrise Rock in 1934, also to commemorate the sacrifices of those who served in the Great War. In a complicated agreement, private parties have pledged to donate 5 new acres to the 1.6 million-acre federal reserve in return for title to the single acre on which the cross formerly stood before vandals destroyed it. Veterans groups hope to restore the monument, but they must first enclose the area in a chain-link fence with signs explaining that the cross stands on now private property.
In each of these fights, it's the opponents of long-standing religious displays who seek to impose their narrow views on the rest of us. It hardly amounts to an effort to impose theocracy when people of faith defend monuments that have inspired passersby for generations. In the case of the Ground Zero Cross, for religious believers, the artifact they honor played a prominent role in the haunting imagery after the terror attacks.
Meanwhile, secular extremists seek to erase such imagery from the collective consciousness and to purge public places of religious reminders. For skeptics, prominently displayed crosses convey the uncomfortable message that the great majority of Americans still honor a faith that self-proclaimed free-thinkers hold in undisguised contempt.
Beneath all the hypocrisy over constitutional restraints and traditional walls of separation, secular activists and self-styled defenders of "civil liberties" seek to transform American society in a way that our Founders and most subsequent generations would never recognize. They seem eager to defend flag-burning, obscenity and every other form of radical expression, while seeking to suppress emblems of the Christian faith that helped shape the nation since the arrival of earliest colonists.
An experiment in enforced secularism might count as a bold departure from the nation's God-haunted past, but it's hard to believe it would produce a better country than the beloved, multifarious and clashing religious symbols that have always characterized our faith-based pluralism.