March 16, 2019

Tear Down That Cross

World War I Memorial, Bladensburg, Maryland 002
Ben Jacobson (Kranar Drogin) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

I don't think anybody expects the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the Bladensburg cross in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. Everybody seems confident that the plaintiffs are going to lose, so much so that the focus has been on dissecting the various implications of how they will lose and what the court's eventual decision will mean for the separation of church and state in the future. I suppose that makes sense. If I was the betting type, I'd certainly be reluctant to put my money on the plaintiffs in this case.

Still, that does not mean I find the likely outcome any less frustrating. It seems obvious that the sensible outcome here is for the court to have the cross removed. Sectarian religious symbols do not belong on public land, and there is no doubt that this is a sectarian religious symbol. Allowing this explicitly Christian symbol to remain on public land amounts to government promotion of the Christian religion. As the federal appeals court in Richmond already recognized, this is unconstitutional. The court should rule for the plaintiffs.

The fact that nobody expects the plaintiffs to prevail in such a clear-cut case tells you everything you need to know about the state of Christian privilege in the United States. Much of the careful work our founders did to make sure our nation would remain secular as they designed it to be has been undone. Fear of Communism was responsible for much of this, but it is important to recognize that this has been supplemented with direct opposition to church-state separation from the Christian right more recently. That is to say, we are now facing organized efforts to erode the separation of church and state.

Separation of church and state has never been an assault on religion. It is not about restricting one's right to practice one's religion. In fact, it prevents the government from intruding upon what people do on their property and in their churches. What happens on public land and government property is different. Your local courthouse is not supposed to fly a Christian flag because this would be the sort of government promotion of a particular religion that our Constitution prohibits. It is not supposed to matter how long the violation has been taking place. Once it is recognized as a violation, it is supposed to be corrected. It is time for the Bladensburg cross to come down. I'm sure there are many churches that would be happy to have it on their property.