Amendment I of the United States Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Recently the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case Utah Highway Patrol Association v. American Atheists. The ADF has a story on the matter. At issue: whether or not memorial crosses can remain along Utah’s roadways. The crosses mark the places where Utah Highway Patrol Troopers sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. One such cross stands about 90 minutes from where I am writing this. Another is about 15 minutes away from my house, and was erected by the family of a sheriff’s detective who died in a helicopter crash while searching for a missing woman. I knew him. He was a good man, a good cop, and had a wickedly dry sense of humor.
What had the American Atheists so indignant was the notion that the crosses amount to a government endorsement of Christianity as they are located on small plots of public land. The atheists have no objection to say, obelisks, but the crosses have got to go.
The irony here is that in Utah the predominant religion is that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints, which does not hold the cross in any particular esteem. In fact I have yet to visit any LDS church (and I’ve been to more than a few) that have a cross, picture of a cross, or even cruciform architecture. In fact as members of the Utah Highway Patrol Association have said, the crosses were not erected as expressions of Christianity, but because crosses are frequently associated with memorials.
So the atheists are fighting to remove religious symbols that were not erected as religions symbols. Or as one listener rather laconically put it to me off-air: “What’s next? Are they going to cut down all the telephone poles?” The guy had a point. Telephone and power poles with their cross beams do in fact have a rather Christian look about them. No telling how many people may be thrown into theological conniption fits from having such a symbol thrust upon them by the municipality!
I have a friend who is a Vietnam vet who to this day hates to see a peace sign. Mainly because to him the peace sign is a not a symbol of back of those beautiful 60’s when “It was so groovy now that people are finally getting; together” but rather a symbol of those peaceful, love-filled people who called servicemen and returning veterans names and spit on them. But he doesn’t run around pitching a fit over every peace sign he sees. He’s got better things to do with his time, and he respects the First Amendment. Besides, he’s a cop too, and has his hands full protecting people who want to gripe about crosses erected to peace officers.
Those in support of the atheists will undoubtedly cite the First Amendment cited at the beginning of this column and will say that the atheist struck a blow on its behalf. These are the same people who in this discussion will with wild-eyed abandon, hair standing on end, teeth set in grim defiance shout about “separation” and that Jefferson was a Deist. And he was, but these same people either do not know, or will not acknowledge that Jefferson, very much a proponent of freedom of religion.
These are the same people who cannot read past the word “establishment” and somehow seem to gloss right over the “free exercise” clause. The argument can be made that the framers of the Constitution were averse to the British tradition of the king or queen being the head of the church, but they were not fans of a monarch being the head of anything in the new nation. But they were by and large men of faith and never intended to remove faith from the public square.
These atheists were not oppressed by the crosses. But they decided to use memorials erected by grieving families to grind their axes, and force a change that the majority of the people of Utah don’t want. And that begs the question: who is oppressing whom?