Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Victory for American atheists as Christian symbol is declared unconstitutional

The American Atheists, Inc., the 'premier organization laboring for the civil liberties of Atheists' has been dedicated and working hard since 1963 to keep our separation of church and state rights from being violated. Following is just one example of their promotion efforts to erase Christianity from the public.

In 1998, the Utah Highway Patrol Association (UHPA) in a gesture of memory and gratitude began putting up 12-foot high crosses near places where Utah highway patrol officers died in the line of duty. Each cross showed the Highway Patrol Officer's insignia as well as his or her name.

The crosses are paid for by the Utah Highway Patrol Association with private dollars. They are privately owned and maintained. According to Lt. Lee Perry, U.H.P. Section One Commander, when someone drives by, they will recognize the crosses as symbolic for a person who died.

The crosses were the idea of Perry and his friend, former police officer Robert Kirby, now a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. Though the cross is not commonly used by Utah’s dominant religion, the LDS Church, they chose it because it could convey quickly to motorists a 'message of death, sacrifice, and honor.'

The program was implemented in freedom without interference from the State of Utah which "neither approves or disapproves of the memorial marker." If allowed to continue, the practice could through the years spread to other states as a reminder for highway safety in dedication for fallen officers. (See Washington State Patrol, Service with humility.)

"I can't tell you how much this means to the memories of these 14 men and their families," said UHP Capt. Ron Ostler.

American Atheists, Inc., can't believe that crosses are not necessarily Christian as an acceptable symbol of burial. They argued in Utah federal district court that the white crosses weren't chosen simply to honor comrades but that since those crosses have official Utah Highway Patrol logos and were on public property, they were therefore a government endorsement of Christianity.

In late 2007, the court decided that while the cross retained a religious meaning when in a religious context, it was understood and used by all as essentially a secular symbol representing death and/or burial when used as a memorial:

"...the cross has attained a secular status as Americans have used it to honor the place where fallen soldiers and citizens lay buried, or had fatal accidents, regardless of their religious belief. And the progression of the cross from a religious to a secular symbol continues as crosses are increasingly used to symbolize death in advertising campaigns, films, television, and seasonal holiday decorations -- frequently having nothing to do with religion or a particular religious belief. Consequently, the court finds a reasonable observer, aware of the history and context of the community would not view the memorial crosses as a government endorsement of religion."
American Atheists didn't buy the argument but believe that every time they have to look at one or more of those crosses, then their separation of church and state rights are being violated. They appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and the Tenth Circuit sided with them.

A three-judge panel said in its 38-page ruling (American Atheists v. Duncan (08-4061) that a "reasonable observer" would conclude that the crosses indicate Christianity was being endorsed by government and to "fear that Christians are likely to receive preferential treatment from the UHP."

Though many roadsides show crosses placed by private individuals honoring a dead relative killed in car accidents, the court stated:

"The mere fact that the cross is a common symbol used in roadside memorials does not mean it is a secular symbol. The massive size of the crosses displayed on Utah's rights-of-way and public property unmistakably conveys a message of endorsement, proselytization, and aggrandizement of religion that is far different from the more humble spirit of small roadside crosses."

David Silverman, the Vice President and National Spokesperson for American Atheists, Inc, said that his organization didn't want this fight but "How anybody could say crosses are not Christian is beyond all of us. It's completely inappropriate."

When Silverman heard the ADF might take this fight to the Supreme Court, he thought it was the wrong thing for them to do, "If they bring it to the U.S. Supreme Court to have the Court decide if crosses are not Christian, that will be a waste of time and a waste of Utah's money!"

The crosses will remain up until all appeals are exhausted.

Let Us Pray. Almighty God, we ask from James 1:5 that You would grant wisdom and victory to the Alliance Defense Fund attorneys who will be appealing the Tenth Circuit Court ruling that favored American Atheists Inc, and ordered the removal of crosses from the roadside memorial that honored fallen Utah troopers, saying that any Christian symbol on government property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. God help the Supreme Court overturn this, so we don’t have to fear removal of the crosses at Arlington Cemetery next. We pray for a victory for the ADF, in Jesus Name, Amen. (taken from CHAPS)

Based on precedent, the ADF will most probably win at the Supreme Court as shown last April in regard to the Mojave cross, (Salazar v. Buono), a Latin cross which was placed atop a prominent rock outcropping in 1934 to honor war dead.

After that ruling, vandals sneaked out into the desert to cut down and steal the cross.

Fortunately, after Utah's crosses are allowed to stay, they won't be so easy to make disappear.

For original article and references, click here.


Doug Indeap said...

You recognize the hypocrisy, I trust, of maintaining in one breath that the court's decision is wrong because the cross really is "essentially a secular symbol" and in the next praying for victory against the decision ordering "removal of Christian crosses."

The irony is that you've essentially confirmed the American Atheists' and court's point: The cross commonly is understood and perceived to be a Christian symbol, and not some secular form devoid of religious meaning.

K. L. Kraemer said...

'Hyprocrisy' is not the right word. I think the atheists are trying to remove all traces of Christianity throughout America. To me, that in and of itself is wrong because the government is to allow free exercise of religion. The ADF has argued in court that the Christian cross when used as a memorial, like Christmas trees or 'in God we trust,' have become acceptable (almost generic) to secular society.

Doug Indeap said...

In discussing separation of church and state, it matters not one bit whether some atheists would like to promote atheism and do away with Christianity (or theism) or whether some theists would like to promote theism and do away with atheism. As individuals, they have the right to hold and express such views--publicly as well as privately.

What matters is what the government does. Under the First Amendment, the government has no business promoting or opposing any religion; it should leave all of us to exercise our religious beliefs without expecting the government will endorse them or fearing the government will oppose them or endorse someone else's.

I understand that the courts have sometimes given a pass to nominally religious statements or actions by the government (e.g., adoption of the national motto "In God we trust") by draining such statements or actions of religious meaning (or at least purporting to do so) and treating them as innocuous secular or nonreligious matters notwithstanding their religious trappings. This is sometimes dubbed "ceremonial deism." As you might expect, the vast majority of Americans (on both "sides") do not understand these statements or actions the way the courts sometimes suppose. Indeed, if they truly did, there would be little to argue about; the reason people get exercised about these things is because they DO regard them to have religious meaning.

K. L. Kraemer said...

For reasons of discussion, it matters because atheists are the ones bringing to court cases like this against use of a Christian symbol, a symbol which has become accepted (up until fairly recently) and traditionally used by even non-Christians.

For example, even though the cross means something to a Christian like myself, many non-Christians wear cross necklaces. Once again, such Christian symbols do not mean an endorsement of any religion.

Doug Indeap said...

Atheists are hardly the only ones objecting to the government promoting religion.

In any event, the real point has nothing to do with the motivation of those who sue to stop the government from violating the Constitution. Under our Constitution, our government has no business promoting or opposing religion--regardless of whether anyone is offended. While the First Amendment thus constrains government from promoting religion without regard to whether anyone is offended, a court may address the issue only in a suit by someone with "standing" (sufficient personal stake in a matter) to bring suit; in order to show such standing, a litigant may allege he is offended or otherwise harmed by the government's failure to follow the law; the question whether someone has standing to sue is entirely different than the question whether the government has violated the Constitution.

With respect to the symbols, you realize, I trust, that you are trying to have it both ways. The reason you care about whether the government allows display of these monuments is that they have religious significance to you and, you surmise, to the "atheists" who want to get rid of them, yet you would justify the government's action by professing they have no such significance.

K. L. Kraemer said...

This is the last time in these comments that I will attempt to explain this. Christianity is part of our heritage, including Christian symbols. This has been accepted for hundreds of years by all kinds of individuals--Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, you name it--in our country. Then fairly recently (starting in the 1960's), individuals and groups like American atheists are trying to erase Christian symbols through court cases. Sometimes they even win. It's as though our Founders and their descendants all this time have gotten it wrong by allowing expressions of Christianity in government and have been waiting for someone like the American atheists to set us straight. ADF is explaining in the courts that these long-time Christian symbols do not threaten non-Christians; they do not constitute endorsement. Atheists saying that people are afraid that non-Christians will be given less preferential treatment by the Utah Patrol is absurd.// And it's no secret that I don't believe in a religiously sterile, atheist-appearing country. I'd like to maintain our Christian history with the richness of our symbols and keep religious freedom for all.//Quote from Patrick Henry: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."

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Doug Indeap said...

Christianity of course is part of our heritage; I have never suggested otherwise. Care should be taken not to make too much of the religious views of individual founders. Their religiosity, while informative, is largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that plainly establishes a secular government on the power of the people (not a deity) and says nothing substantive of god(s) or religion except in the First Amendment where the point is to confirm that each person enjoys religious liberty and that the government is not to take steps to establish religion and another provision precluding any religious test for public office. All of this is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

Take care in quoting the founders on religious matters. Fake quotations abound--including the one you attribute to Patrick Henry. See http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/07/fake_patrick_henry_quote_found.php

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