Survey of religious hostility in America Pt.1

Christina here…

The Liberty Counsel recently (Aug 2012) released a report called “Survey of Religious Hostility in America” <–.pdf.

I’m going to analyze it in multiple parts, because you just don’t want to read that much in one sitting.

The executive summary states:

This updated edition of the Survey of Religious Hostility in America is a testament to the  radical shift in our culture’s worldview that started with the rise of secularism following World  War II and has accelerated with each passing year of the twenty-first century. While by no means  exhaustive, this survey now presents over 600 incidents of religious attacks and hostility in the  United States—most of which occurred within the past 10 years

Let’s talk about it! The survey breaks incidents into three categories: “attacks on religious liberty in the public arena, attacks on religious liberty at the schoolhouse, and attacks against churches and ministries.”

I’d like to go through each of the “attacks” and give my take on them. I’ll also turn the tables around on the Libery Counsel to see if these attacks really are attacks. We’ll start with the first:

Attacks on Veterans’ Memorials
 Salazar v. Buono
 Trunk v. City of San Diego
In these cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that  two veterans’ memorials containing crosses violated the Establishment Clause.  Congress saved one of these memorials by transferring the land to private  ownership, but the government required that a fence be built around the memorial.  The Ninth Circuit held that the other memorial is unconstitutional.

I read all of Trunk v. City of San Diego and Salazar v. Buono and found only one mention of a fence. Here it is:

The Memorial’s physical setting amplifies the message of endorsement and exclusion projected by its history and usage. Despite the recent addition of secular elements, the Cross remains the Memorial’s central feature. The Cross physically dominates the site. It weighs twenty-four tons, stands forty-three feet tall on its base, and is visible from many more locations and perspectives than the Memorial’s secular elements. The Cross is placed in a separate, fenced off box, which highlights it, rather than incorporates it as a natural part of the Memorial.

So, the memorial has a fence, which highlights the cross. There is no mention in here of the government requiring a fence.

In Salazar V. Buono, the 9th circuit held that the Mojave Cross was unconstitutional, true. But the Survey authors are not telling the whole story. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling. The Supreme Court stated, that the lower court “failed to conduct an appropriate analysis when it ordered a white cross removed from California’s Mojave National Preserve. The cross still stands.

I don’t consider this an attack on religious liberty. Religious liberty does not include the right to display religious symbols on property owned by the public.

Tables turned: What if the Mojave Cross were an inverted cross, or an upside-down pentagram, or the atheist scarlet A? Would you consider it an act of hostility if a group wanted those symbols removed from public land?

Here is the second on the list:

Attacks on Ten Commandments Displays
 Van Orden v. Perry
 McCreary County v. ACLU
These cases both involved challenges to Ten Commandments displays, one at the Texas capitol and one in a courthouse in Kentucky. The Supreme Court  heard both cases at the same time and held that the Texas display is permissible because there were other, secular monuments around it but the Kentucky display is impermissible because there were insufficient secular displays nearby.

In Van Orden v. Perry, a Ten Commandments monument in Texas was declared constitutional for it’s historical significance. The judgment mentions in passing that the monument is located next to other secular monuments, but it’s proximity is not given as a reason it was upheld as constitutional.

In  McCreary County v. ACLU, two Kentucky counties put up large displays of the Ten Commandments. When sued by the ACLU, both counties added more displays which were meant to narrowly and specifically refer to Christianity. The court decided the whole thing was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court heart both cases and one judge voted to uphold constitutionality in the Van Orden v. Perry but voted to deny constitutionality in McCreary County, which decided the outcome of the whole case as he was a swing vote.

I don’t consider this an attack on religious liberty. Religious liberty does not include the right to display religious symbols on property owned by the public.

Tables turned: What if the Ten Commandments displays were a set of documents with a specific purpose of showing how our government is secular? How about large stone quotes from Thomas Jefferson stating, “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”  Would you consider it an act of hostility or an attack if a group wanted those symbols removed from courthouses?


Attacks on Public Invocations
 Pelphrey v. Cobb County, Georgia
 Joyner v. Forsyth County, North Carolina
 Galloway v. Town of Greece
These cases involved challenges to legislative assemblies’ opening with prayer. In Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case on legislative prayer, the Court noted that Congress has opened with prayer since the beginning of the country and that Congress hired a chaplain to give these opening prayers the same week it passed the First Amendment. Despite the historical evidence and the Supreme Court’s holding that legislative prayer is constitutional, threats and  lawsuits challenging these prayers are growing more frequent. Both Joyner and Galloway are federal appellate court cases in which courts of appeals rejected the  Supreme Court’s decision in Marsh and held that having prayer before a legislative assembly violates the Establishment Clause

In Pelphrey v. Cobb County, legislative prayer was considered constitutional because such prayers invluded invocations by people of multiple religions. In  Joyner v. Forsyth County, legislative prayer was considered unconstitutional because the prayers were almost always Christian. In Galloway v. Town of Greece , the court ruled legislative prayers unconstitutional because the prayers were almost always Christian.

I don’t consider this an attack on religious liberty. Religious liberty does not include the right to have your government endorse your religion over other religions.

Tables turned: What if the legislative meetings of a county were almost explicitly opened with reading from The God Delusion or readings by atheist poets, who declared god to be a fairy tale? What if legislative meetings opened with Nearly exclusive prayer to Allah? If some people tried to stop that from happening, would it be an attack on religious freedom?

That’s it for Part 1. Stay tuned.

p.s. Crap. This document is 135 pages long, and I am on page 2.

Learn more about Christina and follow her on Twitter @Ziztur


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