Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in a religious symbol dispute that is almost certain to leave a Latin cross standing in a public park in California.
The court was split 5-4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the plurality opinion. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Antonin Scalia backed the decision, while Justices John Paul Stevens, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
Kennedy and Co. seemed to see nothing wrong with a congressionally approved deal that conveyed a small piece of land around the cross in the Mojave National Preserve to a private party. Where others saw a congressional ruse to circumvent lower court orders, the court majority saw a legitimate maneuver. He and his accomplices sent the case back to a lower court for further action, but did so in terms almost certain to keep the cross where it is.
Kennedy also suggested that the Latin cross is not necessarily a religious symbol.
“[A] Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs,” he wrote. “It is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people. Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”
What malarkey! Of course, the cross is a Christian symbol. In fact, it is perhaps the quintessential symbol of that faith.
Worse, Kennedy seems unaware of – or indifferent to – the fact that America’s fallen includes Jews, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists and adherents of dozens of other faiths. A Christian symbol does not honor them.
Needless to say, this is a bad decision and a bad day for church-state separationists.
“This court clearly wants the lower court to find a way to maintain this religious symbol in this public park,” AU’s Barry Lynn told ABC News. “We are very disappointed.”
Religious Right groups are – predictably -- beaming.
The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of Faith and Action, praised the decision as “a victory for the First Amendment and for the rights of citizens, including veterans, to use meaningful symbols like the cross in public displays.”
Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund, said the First Amendment “does not give busybodies the right to cut down religious symbols they don’t like.”
And Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, crowed that the decision “represents a victory against anti-religious hysteria.”
It’s no wonder these groups are ecstatic – the Supreme Court bought their deceptive arguments and played right into their agenda.
The court’s decision shows clear favoritism to a particular faith. This case wasn’t about ALL religious symbols; it was about an effort to maintain a Christian symbol. That’s obvious considering a request by another citizen to display a Buddhist symbol near the cross was denied years ago.
Our justices seemed to have forgotten that our Constitution demands that the government remain neutral when it comes to religion.
Today is a reminder of why it’s so important that President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Stevens recognizes appreciates the religious diversity of our country. We need a justice who does not favor religion over non-religion, or one religious belief or symbol over others.
Americans United will be putting the pressure on to keep church-state issues at the forefront during the judicial confirmation process. We can’t risk having another decision like this one.