Atheist Attorney Argues That Older Public-Land Crosses Ought To Be Grandfathered In

First-Amendment attorney Marc Randazza is a fellow atheist. I’ve known him for roughly seven years, and in that time I’ve seen and heard him say things that leave little doubt on the fucks he doesn’t give about Christianity.

When he sees someone file a lawsuit to remove a huge cross from public land, he cheers.

But not today.

In American Humanist Ass’n v. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Comm’n, the Humanists are seeking to tear down a huge concrete crucifix [the Bladensburg cross] from public land in the DC suburbs. Fundraising for the cross began in 1918, and it was formally dedicated in 1925. The purpose of it was to honor WWI casualties, with a distinctly christian message.

Marc readily concedes the plaintiffs’ point that the cross is, strictly speaking, unconstitutional. He needs no schooling in that regard. He just happens to think that the American Humanist Association is strategically wrong to choose this battle. Marc believes crosses like the one in Bladensburg ought to be, as it were, grandfathered in.

[W]hen a display has been around for almost 100 years without incident, I think it might be time to let it be. I wouldn’t give a complete pass based on age, as there are some pretty old displays that really do need to be removed. For example, the “Easter Cross” in La Jolla, CA. It was originally put up in the 1950s for no other purpose but to promote Christianity. In fact, part of its purpose and effect was to signal to Jews that they were not welcome in La Jolla. (source) In 1989, when litigation over the cross began, the dishonest christians decided to violate one of their Ten Commandments and lie that the cross was really a “war memorial.” They then began the long pretextual process of retro-fitting it as a war memorial. That one doesn’t get a historical pass in my book.

The Bladensburg Cross, on the other hand, might have been put up for a religious purpose. But, it was put up in 1925. Would it matter to me if it was 1935, 1945, 1965? I do not know where to draw the line when it comes to age — but, I think that the longer it has been there, the more of a pass it should get — especially if it was sincerely placed there as a war memorial. I recognize that a lot of Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and whatever died in WWI, and the memorial is not exactly a symbol of inclusion. But, in 1925, things were a bit different. I hardly think that anyone involved in the fundraising or decisionmaking process was doing so out of a 2005 style “stick in the eye to the First Amendment.”

I’m not sure that anyone thinks of the Bladensburg cross as a provocation — Christians thrusting their fingers in secular eye sockets. And whether or not it is an eye poke has no relevance to the legal merits of the case anyway.

But the advice to pick our battles is pretty sound, isn’t it? I’m on the fence about the Bladensburg cross, and on the wisdom of the lawsuit, but I certainly can think of other examples of atheists wasting their powder on cases that are wholly unimportant in the scheme of things. For instance, does anyone think atheists did themselves any favors by going after roadside crosses that honor Utah troopers killed in the line of duty? I’m afraid that when we do file such suits, we come across as the joyless prigs and gotcha men that most of us tend to be against.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.


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