Bill in Congress Would Allow Crosses on Federal War Memorials on Public Land, Giving Church-State Separation the Finger

Imagine the frustration of a conservative Christian member of Congress, sitting idly by while godless jackals attack sacred war memorials with religious symbols on public property with their petty little lawsuits. How could such a person just sit there and do nothing? Can’t these atheists be stopped?

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter of California is trying. Yesterday, he introduced the War Memorial Protection Act, a bill that would enshrine into law the ability for federal war memorials in the public square, like the one in Coos Bay, Oregon, to include religious symbols. It’s a direct response to moves by groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State who make it their business to, well, separate church (the crosses and other religious symbols) from state (the U.S. government’s memorials, existing on public property and paid for with public funds).

The bill would be all the more remarkable if it were a new idea. But it isn’t. Last year, in fact, the U.S. House passed by voice vote the same act, also introduced by Hunter. Here’s how the LA Times reported it then:

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.

That bill never saw the light of day after its passage in the House, not surprisingly, what with a Democratically-controlled Senate. But this time around, there is a new co-sponsor, and it’s someone from the Senate itself: Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina (the state that just flirted with allowing itself to establish a state religion).

Said Burr to the Washington Times:

Many of our men and women in uniform have strong religious convictions, often finding that their faith has played a role in their service. This bill would recognize their beliefs by ensuring that religious symbols, regardless of affiliation, are allowed to be part of military memorials.

Which, of course, is fine, as long as it’s not the government that’s “recognizing” religious beliefs.

So I think it’s at least somewhat notable that there’s a senator attaching himself to this iteration of the bill. I still don’t believe it will move past the House, if it even gets to a vote, but I can also envision a scenario in which a sufficient number of conservative Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas or Mary Landrieu of Louisiana see this as a no-brainer to win some good will back home, and convince Harry Reid to allow it to go to a vote.

But I doubt it. And if it did, well, there’s always the Constitution.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    1) What, did they think a law will override the constitution?

    2) I presume the bill would protect all religious symbols in memorials, not just Christian symbols. Right?

    3) The quote from Bilbray: what an ignorant, stupid man.

  • fsm

    So what I am hearing from this Rep is that I cannot be atheist. Our constitution guarantees my freedom of religion but if I don’t have one the government will pick for me.

    I only have one thing to say to Rep. Hunter: YOU ARE NOT MY REAL FATHER!!!!!!!

  • jdm8

    If the deceased specifically requested a cross for their marker, I would be OK with it. I would expect that people of any other persuasion are allowed to have symbols marking their persuasion if they request it.

  • Travis Myers

    It seems to me that including in a memorial religious symbols that were important to the people being remembered is not establishment of religion, as long as they are inclusive of all religions. So having a cross in a public memorial is not in itself a problem; it only becomes a problem if crosses are the only religious symbols being used to the exclusion of other religions. Think of it like this: we wouldn’t consider the government to be favoring married couples if they included spouses’ names in a memorial. It would only be a problem if they, say, only included the spouses of straight couples. Similarly, the government is not necessarily favoring religion just by including symbols representing the religion of those being memorialized.

  • morganfrost

    Don’t be silly. The Supreme Court has a relief of Moses on the wall, the U.S. Army has had chaplains since before the Constitution was adopted with nobody (until recently) suggesting that the Constitution should eliminate them, military cemeteries are full of crosses and stars of David, Christmas is a federal holiday, Congress begins each session with invocations from members of the clergy, and the Constitution itself states that it was done “in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty Seven,” implying at least some tolerance for the use of religious imagery. Consider the possibility that the “separation of church and state” (a term which does not appear in the Constitution) does not in any way imply what you wish it did.

  • DougI

    More special rights for the religious to force their views upon others and demand that we pay for it. Or, in their minds, they are still being oppressed.

  • JohnH

    There are fields of crosses because everyone that died that was Christian got a cross. There are also stars of David in the field of crosses I am sure you are thinking of, and the location is in France, not the US. US military and government headstones have a wide range of possible markers for any faith that has requested one, including atheist; pictures are available online, just use google.

  • TCC

    Argument from tradition. And enough with the “‘separation of church and state’ does not appear in the Constitution” bullshit; neither does the term “separation of powers,” and we typically think of that as an entirely uncontroversial idea.

  • C Peterson

    I would suggest we need a slightly different law. This law would specifically allow religious symbols to be used on governmental monuments to veterans or war victims, in the case where every single person commemorated by that memorial could be rigorously shown to be a follower of the religion represented. Otherwise, a non-religious monument would be required, or one that included religious symbols representing the rigorously determined views of every single person commemorated.

  • Artor

    Or just prohibit the gov’t from pushing religion in the public square, like the Constitution suggests. Individual soldiers can have their religion recognized on their individual grave markers. An inclusive monument should be inclusive.

  • darius404

    I don’t think it’s even necessarily whether it’s the ONLY religious symbol, but whether or not a particular symbol (or symbols) is given primacy, such that it rises to an implicit endorsement by the government.

    Take the monument in the picture above. Even if there were other religious symbols, the cross is obviously given primacy such that it rises to an endorsement of Christianity by the builders (government). The issue in these cases is (and always should be) whether or not particular religious practices or beliefs are given an endorsement, explicit or implicit, by the state.

  • C Peterson

    It is good that we are now exploring the elimination of religious symbols from public monuments, the elimination of chaplains, and other issues of secularization in a society far more diverse than the one that existed when the Constitution was written. The creators of that document had the foresight to design a system where interpretation could evolve.

    It took the better part of a century for Constitutional interpretation to change enough that slavery was no longer allowed, and another century before fundamental issues of civil rights were fully recognized.

    Just because practices were perfectly acceptable 100 years ago doesn’t mean they should continue to be, as our society changes.

  • Cris Waller

    Duncan Hunter isn’t from Texas; he is from eastern San Diego County in California (see I know; I used to have the misfortune of living in his district…which was represented for many more years by his equally absurd father, also named Duncan Hunter.

  • C Peterson

    Is a grave marker at Arlington representative of the government pushing religion into the public square? Because the only difference between such a marker and one commemorating more people is the number of people it represents.

    The point is, a single grave marker can realistically be seen as representative of the views of the person commemorated, and not the views of the entity placing the marker. Thus my proposal: religious symbols could be used only in the case where they apply to every single person commemorated. In practice, that would effectively eliminate their usage for anything but individual grave markers, or monuments to individuals.

  • SJH

    Ironically they are trying to pass an unconstitutional law in order to protect something that is not unconstitutional. Come on guys, there must be more creative solutions to the problem of atheists stretching the constitution to protect things that are not protected.

  • sTv0

    Fabulous points, C! If, say, an entire US Army platoon was wiped out by, say, a flood (please, allow for some latitude, here…), and a gov’t sponsored memorial was considered, it would be logical and fair that the memorial respected the views of *all* of those who perished in the flood (sorry, the flood story just won’t go away). So, if there Catholics and Jews and Protestants and Wiccans and (gasp!) Atheists et al, then the memorial should demonstrate the unity of the drowned service members by MEMORIALIZING THEIR FUCKING SERVICE TO THEIR COUNTRY NOT THEIR BELIEFS OR NON-BELIEFS IN THEIR INNUMERABLE FUCKING DEITIES.

  • SJH

    How is a memorial an endorsement. Simply installing a memorial does not necessarily imply that the government believes that only Christians are welcome. If someone wanted to put up an atheist memorial and they were refused, then that would be unconstitutional.

  • sTv0

    “…and another century before fundamental issues of civil rights were fully recognized.” And we’re *still* not finished with this one! Gripes my cookies that my indoctrination into Catholicism blinded me so badly to the reality that civil rights applies to all citizens (no, really?), EVEN IF THEY’RE GAY. So fucking happy to be out of religion. Sorry, I’ll turn my rant OFF now and go to the shutup couch…

  • Ken Detweiler

    Seems oddly appropriate since more often than not it’s religion that caused the war in the first place.

  • SJH

    So in order to achieve true freedom we must sacrifice all our rights to the collective unless the collective agrees? As long as every single person agrees with you then you may be granted a single freedom.

    I’m sorry, but not every religion has to be present in order to comply with the constitution. It is not participation that makes something constitutional, it is the right to participate. The government might choose to put up a Christin memorial and then at some point in the future maybe they choose to install a Wiccan memorial. Neither would be unconstitutional. It only becomes unconstitutional if a particular person is denied participation because of their religion.

    This issue is silly and my suspicion is that it has nothing to do with the constitution. There are certain people trying to manipulate the culture through the judicial and legislative action. (Liberals and Conservatives, Republicans and democrats are both guilty) With one hand they will claim they protect the constitution and with the other they tear it up and toss it in the trash. The defend the constitution in as far as it suits them.

  • Feminerd

    So, what do you think the chances of a Wiccan memorial are? A Muslim memorial (one of the fastest growing religious segments in the US, more Muslims than Jews in the US)? An atheist memorial?

    I’m going to go with not high. Approaching 0%, actually. A de facto establishment of religion is still unconstitutional, and de facto, Christianity is assumed to be the norm unless you prove otherwise. A memorial to all soldiers that includes only crosses renders invisible the beliefs of all the other religions soldiers belonged to. If you were to tally up all the war memorials in the US (not including gravestones), you’d have good reason to assume all American soldiers are Christian. You would be wrong, but it would be a logical conclusion to reach. That means something has gone very wrong with our war memorial design.

  • Feminerd

    Governments are not allowed to endorse any religion, or religion over non-religion. Full stop.

    Requiring a religious minority to raise a crapton of money, petition for a space, and build a memorial to get equal access to the public square is not equality. It is, in fact, an onerous burden. We’d be far better off if religious symbols were just barred from government property altogether.

  • Feminerd

    Heck, neither does “freedom of religion” for that matter. The actual text of the First Amendment is as follows: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    “Freedom of religion” is still a phrase that is uncontroversial as a statement of constitutional principle, even if in practice it does get somewhat rancorous.

  • darius404

    An atheist memorial

    Heh. An atheist memorial: a monument with a big stone nothing at the top.

  • Feminerd

    That could work :). Or a big A. Or even a giant middle finger reaching towards the sky- most soldiers A) curse like, well, soldiers and B) would really rather not be dead. I’d imagine telling everyone to Fuck Right Off would be right up their alley.

  • sTv0

    “Consider the possibility that the “separation of church and state” (a term which does not appear in the Constitution) does not in any way imply what you wish it did.”

    Oh contrare, mon ami. It *does*, indeed, imply what we wish it does. An inescapable truth, even if you have not yet read Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists (now there’s some homework for ya). If you’re going to make a factual statement, especially on this blog, you better bring your A game, cause you’re going to have to support it.

    On the Supreme Court facia, there is not only a relief of Moses, there are also..well, let’s allow to tell us: “Here the sculpture group is by Hermon A. MacNeil, and the marble figures represent great lawgivers, Moses, Confucius, and Solon, flanked by symbolic groups representing Means of Enforcing the Law, Tempering Justice with Mercy, Settlement of Disputes Between States, and Maritime and other functions of the Supreme Court. The architrave bears the legend: “Justice the Guardian of Liberty.”

    So, if you’re going to imply that the laws handed down by the U.S. gov’t are in any way based on Judeo-xTian precepts, you’re going to have to explain why Confucius and Solon are included with Moses (who, unfortunately, according to academia, did not exist).(

    On the subject of military chaplains, West Point, established 1802, did not have a chaplain until 1814 and “had a reputation not just as a non-religious school, but a place of irreligion.” I do believe, if I know my chronology, that West Point was established *after* the adoption of the Constitution (adopted September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in eleven states. It went into effect on March 4, 1789 (Paul Rodgers (2011). United States Constitutional Law: An Introduction. McFarland. p. 109)). The history of the chaplaincy at West Point is well-studied by Chris Rodda: “”

    “military cemeteries are full of crosses and stars of David”. Those headstones memorialize *individual* soldiers, not the service unit to which they belonged.

    “Christmas is a federal holiday”. Yes, established 1870. Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) and Labor Day became federal holidays in 1888 and 1894, respectively. So, what’s your point? Dont’ be surprised if we start celebrating Ramadan as a federal holiday (fuck, that a *whole* month!).

    “Congress begins each session with invocations from members of the clergy”.
    So what? It’s unconstitutional unless it is non-sectarian or inclusive of *every* religious preference.

    and finally “and the Constitution itself states that it was done “in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty Seven,” implying at least some tolerance for the use of religious imagery.”

    Okay, which Lord? Lord Zeus? Lord Krishna?
    Your use of revisionist history shows a terrific lack of understanding of actual histo…wait, you read David Barton and Glenn Beck, don’t you? Don’t you? Jeeezus H. Christ! I KNEW it!! That quote about the Constitution…that’s almost directly from a David Barton book, isn’t it? Ha! You’re just a Glenn Beckian Troll, right? Oh, for the love of….

  • randomfactor

    They think their personal wishes override the Constitution.

  • randomfactor

    “The Supreme Court has a relief of Moses on the wall”

    Amongst a display of several other “law-givers” of many faiths. You know what word also doesn’t appear in the Constitution? “God.”

  • randomfactor

    I thought maybe he’d moved on to browner shores.

  • Ron Walter

    “Our Constitution protects the freedom of religion, not freedom from it,” Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Carlsbad), a bill co-sponsor, told his colleagues.” Well, that’s not in line with what was intended, according to Jefferson – “Because
    religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every
    person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious
    institutions that use government power in support of themselves and
    force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine
    all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion
    tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to
    corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation
    between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free
    Thomas Jefferson, to the Virginia Baptists (1808)

  • jeffj900

    I’m all for eliminating government support of religion, whether it is eliminating “Under God” or “In God We Trust”, or tearing the 10 commandments or Nativity scenes from public buildings or parks.

    In those cases, governement is endorsing a religious symbol on behalf of everyone.

    When it comes to the cross, the crescent, the star, or whatever on a soldier’s grave, it’s being done for a soldier and his or her family who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. For offering this “last full measure of devotion”, as Mr. Lincoln put it, we should be happy to give soldiers who want it a cross on their grave.

    It is important that each soldier is able to choose the symbol that suits them. Atheists, should be able to choose an enormous middle finger aimed skyward to be placed side by side with the crosses, crescents, stars of david, and other symbols of importance to soldiers and their families.

  • DavidMHart

    Perhaps this is the monument you’re looking for?

  • Marco Conti

    Here is one:

  • LutherW

    I was thinking we could insist on clean money without God and then real blood on money that says “In God we Trust”. They could even claim it magically changes into wine.

  • jeffj900

    As Colbert might say: Suck it God.

  • Feminerd


  • Feminerd

    Agreed in all particulars. I don’t think anyone here has issues with individual graves having religious symbols on them to represent the soldier’s religion. I know I see it as respectful of the deceased individual to do so.

  • jeffj900

    Now that I re-read the article, I see that I misinterpreted “memorial”, as “grave”. I think the photo put the idea of grave in my head. I agree that a generalized military memorial ought not to include any religious symbols.

  • Pseudonym

    That’s untrue of almost every war that the United States has ever been involved in.

  • C Peterson

    Nobody has a right to a religious memorial provided by the state, so there are none to sacrifice. A religious memorial is a privilege the state might reasonably grant, assuming that it doesn’t violate the rights of somebody else- as it would if the religion represented differed from the beliefs of any one of the people being memorialized. On the other hand, a secular memorial violates nobody’s rights or sensibilities and is unquestionably Constitutional.

    Constitutionality aside, it is grossly offensive to those being celebrated to lump them together under a religious symbol that doesn’t represent them all. Personally, I’d prefer a swastika over my monument to a cross. If circumstances are such that some symbolically Christian monument ever has my name on it, I hope my family takes whatever legal action is required to remedy that injustice.

  • Stuart

    ARIS, regarded as one of best surveys of religious affiliation,showed twice as many Jews as Muslims in 2008