House approves religious symbols on war memorials

Somehow, I don’t think we’ve heard the last on this subject:

The House on Tuesday approved a measure that seeks to permit religious symbols on federal war memorials, a response to a court ruling that declared a cross atop a San Diego memorial violated the Constitution.

The War Memorial Protection Act passed on a voice vote in the Republican-controlled House but faces uncertainty in the Senate.

The measure, which would allow religious symbols to be included in military monuments, was introduced by Rep.Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared the 43-foot cross atop Mt. Soledad an unconstitutional “government endorsement of religion.”

The measure’s approval came the same day the House passed a bill, the World War II Memorial Prayer Act, to authorize installation of a plaque or inscription at the World War II Memorial in Washington of the prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered on the morning of the Allies’ invasion of Europe.

Hunter said his legislation was needed in the face of legal challenges against the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial “and the likelihood of more to come.”

“Our Constitution protects the freedom of religion, not freedom from it,” Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Carlsbad), a bill co-sponsor, told his colleagues. “This issue is one that has gone so far that we’re actually talking about tearing crosses down over war memorials.”

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  1. Katie Angel says:

    I guess it’s time to start writing our Senators in support of this.

  2. Passing a law that declares an unconstitutional practice constitutionally permissible doesn’t make it so.

  3. Deacon Steve says:

    As long as it makes it apply to all religions it doesn’t violate the constitution. Freedom of religion does not equate freedom from religion despite what some would have us believe. The intent is to not have a national religion like what was in effect in England at the time of the revolution. The leader of the state should not also be the cheif defender of the faith. So congress cannot pass a law that promotes a religion or restricts a religion.

  4. Oregon Catholic says:

    What we are on our way to is a de-facto atheist state religion. If you doubt that many atheists understand theirs to be a form of religion just head over to the atheist portal and check ‘em out.

    I know some atheists are not combative and think the enforced absence of religion in the public sphere does no one any harm. But I will state to you that it does cause harm and a loss of freedom.

  5. I think the slippery slope that worries me is the conservative reaction to non-Christian religious symbols, which would seem, in the guise of fairness, to be appropriate. Lots of fuss about a mosque in southern Manhattan. So are religious freedom advocates prepared to defend the public expression of Islam, paganism, and other faiths?

    Personally, I prefer the state refrain from religious gestures. They do them poorly. And when they do do them, they tend to be evangelical Protestant. What if a Catholic objected to the imaged memorial for not including a corpus? What if both versions of the Ten Commandments had to be shown?

    Better for each faith to express their own symbols artistically and in a controllable context.

  6. Those who want religious symbols in the public sphere have ZERO interest in extending that freedom to other faiths. They want official state sponsorship of sectarian Christianity, and they’ll argue that point very openly in every venue except in legal briefs where they have to feign an interest in universal religious freedom.

  7. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Watch it, Kenneth. That’s a broad brush. Proof?

  8. It might be wise to remember our history. In the “good old days”, when religion was very visibly in the public square, it was Protestant with a very vocal anti-Catholic bias. The Protestant evangelicals, especially in the Bible Belt, are never going to accept “Papists” on an equal footing.

    Freedom FROM religion in the public square is the surest guarantee of freedom OF religion — especially for Catholics and non-Christians.

  9. Well, for starters, it’s very clear in the open statements and agendas of most of the groups who are party to these lawsuits and this sort of legislation. They’re very open about the fact that they believe America was meant to be an explicitly Christian country with a special standing in law for that religion.
    They don’t try to hide that agenda at all, except when the expediencies of the legal process require it to succeed. Then, and only then, do we see the bizarre legal and logical acrobatics in which they pretend that the cross is really a purely secular all-purpose symbol devoid of any particular religious connotation. Or we see someone advocating to have the 10 Commandments in a courtroom who pretends to suddenly have an interests in doing so simply as a way of curating a historical exhibit on the evolution of jurisprudence. I don’t pretend, at all, to be the brightest bulb in the array, but a five-year old can see through these guises.
    We can also see this from many, many instances where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. There are many recent cases where, for example, school boards or similar public governments insisted on holding prayers, distributing Bibles in schools, what have you. Invariable, the ACLU would get after them and say “you can do that, IF you give equal access to all faiths.”
    Well, lo and behold, in every single case where that came to light, they suddenly lost all interest in state-sponsored religious displays! If they really were all about free expression for everyone, we could have that, by the close of business tomorrow. That’s well established in law. It’s also clearly not what the main thrust of this crosses-on-public land movement is interested in.
    I’d love to be proven wrong on this point, but I won’t believe it until I see someone follow through and have a space where ALL faith symbols were given the same access and standing as they seem to want for the cross. I think that would be pretty cool, but I won’t hold my breath either…

  10. Oregon Catholic says:

    I think you are right in some cases. But the fact that the US is overwhelming Christian means that it will sometimes seem it is seeking favored status when that is not really the case. There’s just a gosh darn lot of people who are Christian and like having certain symbols displayed. Is it so heinous that a cross is erected as a memorial when the vast majority of persons it represents were Christian? If a Jew or Muslim was forced to have a cross for a gravestone or if they were denied a religious symbol while Christians were allowed a cross, then that’s a fair objection, but no one is doing that to my knowledge.

  11. Oregon Catholic says:

    Yah, but that’s exactly what’s happening now to the Church regarding insurance. The minute the Church as employer interacts with the public, then our freedom to be Catholic is lost. If we accept freedom FROM religion in public then the only freedom OF religion we will have is in our home (provided we don’t rent of course) and in our church buildings. That is most decidedly NOT what this country was founded on – it’s what the atheists have twisted the narrative to be about and I’m afraid you’ve fallen for it.

  12. That’s absolutely correct. The history that results from giving governments, not people, freedom of religion, is awash in blood. All of the butchery of the Reformation and counter movements, the sectarian strife in Ireland. Not to mention the little gems like the colonial laws which, among other things, prescribed the death penalty for Jesuits for simply setting foot in the jurisdiction (Massachusetts Bay Colony), fines and imprisonment for failing to be a “licensed” preacher, etc.
    Catholicism would have been strangled in the cradle in this country had it not been for freedom FROM religion in state affairs. There would have been strict policies against admitting Catholic immigrants, and even stricter laws barring them from holding office, owning land, inheriting, opening schools, you name it. Church-state separation is not some radical atheist idea. It was first put forth by the Baptists, who knew what it was to be on the wrong end of triumphalism and state religion.
    Jefferson and other founders had the good sense to keep government out of the religion business altogether. It’s astounding to me that we have people who want to return to the barbarity we saw before that concept took root and what we see play out in the Middle East every day. People who don’t trust the government to tie its own shoes in any other issue have absolute faith in its ability to regulate and advocate matters of conscience and religion on their behalf.

  13. You will — and do — have freedom of religion in your home, your place of worship, your car, and your owned business. You can pray with loud voice in all the above places.

    You can pray silently anywhere at any time.

    Within zoning and noise regulations you can practice/attend your rites all you want. You can teach your children what you want them to know about God and how to adore Him.

    You can frequent any other establishment you wish — perhaps only those owned by those of your faith, perhaps other establishments.

    You can support the activities of your religion financially and with your presence.

    And this is EXACTLY what this country was founded on.

  14. “Is it so heinous that a cross is erected as a memorial when the vast majority of persons it represents were Christian?”

    Well, there was a lot of sputter when atheists “won” a California lottery to display Nativity scenes on public land.

    It might also be that non-Christians object to their tax money being adopted for the purposes of a Christian symbol.

    I wouldn’t say that it’s “heinous,” and to my awareness, nobody is using that word. Inappropriate, I can see. Such as it is, I can imagine a group of non-Christians amassing public support for a non-Christian symbol, and such a symbol not being something some Christians might stomach.

    Since churches are permitted to buy property and erect memorials as they see fit on their own land, I don’t see the problem with an interested church putting FDR’s comment on their own war memorial plaque. I suppose my question to supporters of this law would be threefold: why do you want other people to pay for what you seek; are you prepared for the inevitable escalation that could happen in some localities; and is this the way we should be going?

  15. Oregon Catholic says:

    Wake up. People don’t have religious freedom in their property or business. The gov dictates who you must rent to and who you must hire and who you can’t fire. I can’t freely exercise my religion anywhere I want but at the same time the gov more and more is telling me what I can and can’t do even if it conflicts with my religion. That’s what freedom FROM religion proponents have wrought.

  16. Running a business is not a religious activity, primarily. It is a commercial one and as such has been subject to government regulation pretty much since the first Sumerians crowded into the first city. The guarantees of freedom of expression of religion in this country are expansive, but not absolute.
    People can (and have) cited sincere religious belief as reasons for race or religious discrimination in their service or hiring practices, or refusal to abide by building and fire codes, or zoning, or even paying taxes or answering to any Earthly laws. Freedom of religion cannot be an absolute right for the same reasons no other rights can be absolute – it would destroy all other rights and the ability to run a civil society.
    Back in the “good old days” when people didn’t have the government poking its nose into hiring practices, plenty of Catholics found themselves reading help wanted signs saying “Irish need not apply” (or any other number of ethnic/religious identities). Do you really want to go back to that? I guess a lot of people do, as long as they feel they’re among the privileged groups in that pecking order.

  17. Oregon Catholic says:

    The laws have just forced employers to get more creative and less obvious in some circumstances since the law can sometimes be ridiculous and anything but just. If I own a Catholic bookstore and a qualified applicant with satanic facial tattoos and piecings applies for a clerk position, I’d better go through the motions of interviewing them and have a solid backup applicant I can hire instead or I might end up in a lengthy and expensive court battle. I don’t dare state the obvious “You’re not a good fit for my business”. The law would expect me to hire them and lose my business as my customers run out the door never to return.

  18. Richard Johnson says:

    Deacon Greg, you asked for proof of Kenneth’s assertion. Might I suggest you look into the struggle that Pagans had in getting the right to have a symbol of a Pagan religion displayed on the military gravestones of Wiccans. Or similar resistance to the addition of an outdoor worship venue at the Air Force Academy for Pagans.

    I’m certain you are familiar with the resistance to the building of Mosques on private land in many communities (NY City and Murfreesboro, TN being two of the most well-known). But also we have the decision in Pleasant Grove City vs. Summum, where a number of Christian groups filed amicus briefs against allowing Summum to display a symbol of their religion on the public square where other symbols of faiths are displayed. Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ, a very ardent proponent of religious freedom when it comes to Christian faiths, argued for the city in its refusal to allow the Summum display to be put up.

    Oregon Catholic correctly states that this nation’s citizens, by a wide margin, identify as Christian. I would remind him that his faith, Catholicism, once suffered persecution from a majority Christian populace in our nation, and that many of the laws that were passed to try to remedy that situation are what minority faiths today are clinging to in an effort to maintain their small place in the public square.

  19. Richard Johnson says:

    Oregon Catholic, there are still people in some areas of the country who insist that, according to the teachings of their fundamentalist Christian faith, they should not have to do business with persons of color. They are few and far between, thankfully, but they remain ardent in their claim that, according to their faith, they are not to relate in any way with those bearing “the mark of Cain”.

    Should the law permit them to run their business (grocery store, gas station, doctor office, etc.) in accordance with those beliefs? Or should the law insist that they treat all people equally when it comes to their non-religious businesses?

  20. Court made a huge error in the separation clause by finding wording not actually there. Congress should move to correct this mistake with legislation which can then be determined to either support the constitution or not. For most of America’s existence under our constitution, this was not an issue until the court ruled under the myth of separation.
    And those who are not judeo Christian should be grateful that the country was founded under this faith as it set up the ability that you were not forced by the government to become of one specific faith. If you want to worship Satan, you are free to do so. The court ruling started to create the problems we see today and most of them are created by aethist who believe the state religion now is aethism which is thus used to force all forms of religion from having any connection to government in a constant assult. Now we see this administration and their attack on religious freedom.

    Good for the house to try to start to bring some sanity back to this country.

  21. The separation clause and concept has been in there since day one of the Constitution. It was written in by James Madison in response to specific lobbying by Baptists (not atheists of any sort), who were rightly concerned about the establishment of a state church. It was not a high profile issue until more recently for a couple reasons. One, the Bill of Rights was not held to bind state and local governments until the later part of the 19th Century, and the incorporation doctrine grew over subsequent decades. Two, there were damn few admitted atheists or non-Christians around to challenge the protestant hegemony that ruled for most of our history.
    Nor do I take any comfort in the supposedly benign nature of our Judeo Christian national character. There may not be any law compelling belief or practice, but those who identify this as a “Christian nation” are very often doing whatever they can to give us second-class standing before the law. They work to ensure that they, and only they, have access to public property for their religious symbols. They have vigorously discriminated against us in the military, in schools, in family law cases, you name it. Every right we have secured in court battles and other struggles has come because of the separation clause and in spite of the self-appointed defenders of our Christian heritage in governance.

  22. The more I look at this, the more obvious it is that this is a moot issue where this bill is concerned. This congressman is not the first to try a clever end-run around the Court’s authority of judicial review with a statute.
    It’s a procedural version of the old kid’s game of “calling dibs” – in this case trying to say “hah! I called it first, so you can’t rule on the constitutionality of religious symbols on public land. If this thing somehow got past the Senate and White House, which it won’t, the justices would be mildly amused, but thoroughly unimpressed. They’d rule on the underlying matter based on the merits of the case and their own judgement, they’d use the War Memorial Protection Act to light their cigars, and they’d roundly mock Congress in the final ruling. They’ve got more than 200 years of law on their side where that’s concerned.
    I suspect the rep who wrote this bill knows that full well and did it primarily to generate a cool media event and score some points for the religious conservatives in his district. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It’s all part of the political game, but it needs a bit of perspective before any of us gets our knickers too twisted over it.

  23. Oregon Catholic says:

    In all honesty do you think a law can force someone with those beliefs to hire a person of color or treat them equally?

  24. “Richard,
    In all honesty do you think a law can force someone with those beliefs to hire a person of color or treat them equally?”
    I’ll let Richard formulate his own answer, but I would say that yes, it can, at some level, enforce justice. Like all laws, anti-discrimination rules are sort of a wide mesh net. A lot of little stuff gets through, but it still does the job. Small employers, landlords, whoever, the mom and pop scale places will always be able to get away with discrimination, for the most part. They can always play the game of saying the job or the vacancy was just filled, and they’ll get away with it if they’re not too blatant or stupid about it.
    Bigger companies will, sooner or later, get caught, and pay a huge cost in both legal and reputational damages. Sometimes the little fish get caught too. The law won’t change anyone’s hearts, and it won’t stamp out discrimination, by a long shot. It does, however, make it an unattractive and risky proposition, and it probably discourages some of the most virulent bigots from wanting to go into front-line public service industries or retail. It’s also 100 % effective in stamping out the toxic effects that come from open and unchecked bigotry.


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