In a feature article on the front page left column of today's Los Angeles Times (10-22-2012), writer Thomas Curwen documents the history of a federal lawsuit that led to the removal of a veterans memorial cross erected in the Mojave Desert after WWI. It's a fair account, which adds some useful background on how the lawsuit came about. However, it leaves unanswered one vital question: Why would a cross built originally on private property and later designated federal park land pose a constitutional threat? The article lets us assume that the presence of such a cross makes adherents of religions other than Christianity to be outsiders and unwelcome. But is that really the case?
Let's examine the relevant facts. The cross existed without controversy for decades on private property. The property was converted into a federal park preserve at the end of the Clinton presidency. Frank Buono worked for the Mojave National Preserve in Joshua Tree National Park as an assistant superintendent. Buono and a friend, Herman Hoops, "were retired park service employees with more than 20 years each [and both men] felt that a religious symbol on federal land was wrong."
Let's stop there for a moment. We have a benign veterans war memorial situated in the middle of the desert where it is unlikely to be observed by many people. It was installed on private property. Two retired federal park employees with an agenda decide that because they feel a religious symbol on federal land is wrong, everyone must be forced to agree with them.
Buono and Hoops perhaps never stopped to consider that the cross harmed no one, or that because it originated on what was once private property, its continued presence was unlikely to harm anyone. Nor did they choose to respect the traditions that inspired the cross to symbolize the sacrifices of war veterans. Had the religious symbol been an ancient Indian religious symbol, would Buono and Hoops be as offended as they were?
The answer is: of course not! Buono and Hoops objected to the mainstream acceptance of Christianity in American life. For decades, atheist groups and secular pseudo-constitutionalists have been trying to erase the dominating force of Christianity in this country. These same people will seek to protect the religious rights of adherents to non-traditional religions (see, e.g., my discussion of a court injunction in 1994 that prevented the development of a mini-mall on state-owned property in Long Beach, California, located on "the historically and archaeologically known village sites of Puvungna, sacred to Southern California Indians since it was a creation center and the place where the prophet Chinigchinich lived and taught."). (See also: "Save Puvungna! No Mini Mall on Indian Sacred Site at Cal State Long Beach").
This may not be a theocracy, but America's long-observed Christian traditions should demand at least as much respect as heathen gods.
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