Robert Knight

“Each visitor to the memorial is free to decide what the cross, and the memorial overall, means to them. They can take the cross as an expression of reverence for the nation’s veterans, including those who suffered the supreme sacrifice. They can take it as an expression of hope that these lost loved ones will be seen again in some unknown future. They can take it as an expression of some religious message. However each visitor interprets the cross, they are also free to then accept or reject the message that they each discern.”

Mr. Ferrara also notes that in 1776, Thomas Jefferson led the adoption of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, and that the religious freedom clause in that Declaration states:

“That religion, or the duty we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason or conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience….” (emphasis added).

It’s been tough sledding for public crosses. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court last April refused to order the removal of a 7-foot cross made of metal pipe at the Mojave National Preserve, where veterans had maintained a cross since 1934, vandals cut it down. In May, a court ordered a replacement also torn down pending further appeals. Previously, a court ordered the cross covered in a plywood box, an apt expression of the death wish that secularists have for public religious symbols.

Over in Arizona, at the behest of an atheist group, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last August that 14 roadside crosses, each 12 feet high and memorializing fallen Arizona Highway Patrolmen, are unconstitutional. On Jan. 6, the full court issued a stay of the order, giving the state 90 days in which to appeal.

The common thread in these cases is the confusion of expression with coercion. It would be nice, however, if the new Congress found some way to coerce federal judges into living up to their oaths. The jurists should be upholding real constitutional rights instead of twisting the Constitution into a battering ram against any public edifice with religious underpinnings.

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.