Yesterday was Veterans Day, and today is the official federal observance. It's a time to remember the sacrifices all veterans have made to keep our country safe. And I do mean all veterans. Each and every one deserves our thanks on this day.
Yet it seems lately that only some veterans are getting that recognition and gratitude. Around the country, disputes have popped up over alleged memorials to veterans that don’t, in fact, honor all veterans. These displays honor only some veterans – the Christian ones.
That’s because they’re crosses. This issue is playing out most recently in Bladensburg, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., where a towering cross at a busy intersection had become the focus of a legal battle that has reached the Supreme Court.
The 40-foot-tall cross was erected in 1925 to honor veterans of World War I. In this case, the cross remembers 49 local men who died in the war. We don’t know their religious affiliations, but we do know that men and women of many faiths and none served in the Great War, and we know that all deserve to be honored and remembered.
Yet time and again, we are told that a cross memorializes everyone. Some people will go to great lengths to make strange arguments. An enormous cross on Mount Soledad near San Diego that was originally erected for clearly religious purposes – Easter sunrise services – was later retroactively rebranded as a war memorial. Federal courts were not fooled. Litigation dragged on for many years, but the cross, originally on public property, is now in private hands.
A few years ago, a flap erupted in Knoxville, Iowa, after Americans United objected to residents’ plan to erect a display containing a cross as a war memorial. Many people in town were angry at us. They seemed to be incapable of looking inwardly and asking why they were so intent on erecting a memorial that didn’t include all of the veterans they claimed to cherish.
The cross is not just an interesting geometric pattern. It’s the predominant symbol of the Christian faith. It has power and meaning – for Christians. It is not a generic symbol for memorializing the dead. It simply can’t play that role, and it’s offensive to all, Christians and non-Christians alike, to try to force it to.
Our military, like larger society, is diverse in matters of faith. Public memorials should recognize that fact. On this day especially, let’s redouble our efforts to ensure that all of our veterans, no matter their religious or philosophical views, receive the recognition and honor they so richly deserve.