Memorial Day 2019: Cutting the Cross of Christ
Paul Kengor
by
Bladensburg cross (YouTube screenshot)

This Memorial Day 2019 brings another sorry dispatch from the Kultursmog.

One of the major Supreme Court decisions we’ll soon hear about is the Bladensburg cross case. This is the case in which secularists are demanding the removal of a large cross that memorializes veterans in the town of Bladensburg, Maryland, because the cross resides on public property. To some, the mere sight apparently elicits hisses and shrieks. The cross must fall.

The cross, of course, wasn’t erected yesterday. The “Peace Cross” was constructed in 1925 in honor of 49 fallen veterans of World War I. It was designed by the Gold Star mothers and erected by the local post of the American Legion.

The case is known as The American Legion v. The American Humanist Association. The “humanists” argue that the memorial is unconstitutional because it’s fashioned in the shape of a cross on government property, and thus stands in violation of “separation of church and state” — a phrase, of course, not found anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. That language was expressed by Thomas Jefferson in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, and has been badly abused and misinterpreted ever since.

The fact that the cross is a cross is what makes it unacceptable. Replace it with a statue of Barney the purple dinosaur and all would be peachy. I suppose you could replace it with a statue to Lucifer and satisfied secularists would withdraw their objection.

Secularists like to appeal to the First Amendment of the Constitution, which says, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Obviously, allowing the old cross to continue to stand would not create a congressional “establishment of religion.” Anyone who thinks allowing this cross to remain means that the feds are conspiring to implement a national theocracy needs to have his head examined. As they invoke that select handful of words from the First Amendment, the secularists misleadingly do what they always do, namely — avoid the remainder of what the First Amendment says abut freedom of religion: the government “shall not prohibit the free exercise thereof.” The American Legion and Gold Star mothers of Bladensburg exercised their freedom of religion in 1925 to honor their fallen brothers and sons.

The secularists, however, could give a rip.

This is an outrage. It is hostility toward religion, pure and simple. It is also yet another remarkable example of secular-liberal intolerance. How can people who preach diversity be so blatantly intolerant of the beliefs of others?

For a sense of the lack of respect, consider one of the worst affronts in the case:

A federal appeals court in October 2017 had ruled the cross unconstitutional, asserting that it “excessively entangles” the government with religion. That verdict was rendered in a 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, which argued that the Peace Cross “aggrandizes the Latin cross” and thereby constitutes a U.S. government endorsement of Christianity. So said a 33-page opinion written by Judge Stephanie Thacker and joined by Judge James A. Wynn Jr.

Thacker’s overall opinion demonstrated a troubling lack of historical-theological awareness. But worst of all was the insensitivity displayed during oral arguments. Thacker, an Obama appointee approved by the U.S. Senate in 2012 by a vote of 91-3, offered a truly novel solution. During oral arguments, Thacker asked the attorney defending the memorial: “What about… my suggestion of chopping the arms off?”

Whoa, say that again?

Yes, the judge offered a compromise: slice off the horizontal arms. You heard that right: slice off the arms from the cross of Christ.

Can you imagine? Can you picture it? Truly, picture it in your mind. Grab a photo of the memorial and do your own airbrush. How does it look? The cross becomes a pillar.

For the record, Jesus Christ was scourged at a pillar. Also for the record, the Peace Cross, mercifully, does not have a corpus. (Another Latin lesson: “corpus” is Latin for “body.”) Thus, the demolition crew wouldn’t be sawing off the arms of Jesus.

But imagine the precedent proposed. Presumably, using the Thacker Solution, similar memorial crosses on government property could all be targeted for arm-removal.

In fact, that prompts this thought: in the interest of fairness and equality, Judge Thacker, why stop with crosses? Shouldn’t we also target the horizontal parts of the Star of David — another religious symbol — if we find them as memorials on government property?

Let’s go on a search nationwide for memorials to fallen Jewish soldiers. Are there any large Stars of David erected on government property that we should hunt down? We could permit them to remain only if we saw off the horizontal parts. Unfortunately, the star would no longer be a star, but that seems a minor trifle for the magnificent greater good of not “entangling” government with religion. So long as we spare the nation the ominous implementation of a national theocracy.

As for my beloved Jewish friends, no offense — but it’s apparently crucial we do this. Grab the axes!

Sarcasm aside, I pose a serious question to Judge Thacker and the secularists: Do you not see how your objections to the cross of Christ might be offensive? In the name of not offending a few, you’re offending many. In the name of inclusion, you’re excluding. In the name of tolerance, you’re engaging in intolerance.

It isn’t like this cross was planted yesterday or is being scheduled for 2020. It has been there for nearly a hundred years. Can’t you leave it alone at least for that reason? This isn’t a bronzed statue of a Confederate general who whipped slaves on a plantation. This is a testimony to the faith of the men who died for their country in World War I — for peace. Do you not see the aggression in your actions? This smacks of a hostile pursuit.

If this was a giant Star of David on public land, I’d be the first to stand with a group of rabbis demanding we back off and respect a century-old memorial. That’s the difference between conservatives and liberals. A conservative like myself will fight for the rights of every Christian and Jew and cross and Star of David — and for the rights of Muslims as well. The same isn’t true for secular liberals. They pick and choose. They’re the first to harass, fine, sue, shut down, and toss in jail the Christian baker, florist, or marriage clerk. I will defend the liberty of a Muslim baker in Dearborn as well as a Christian baker in Colorado. I will defend the right of an Orthodox Jewish caterer to decline a wedding on the Sabbath just as I’ll defend the right of a Christian florist in Washington state to decline a same-sex wedding ceremony that violates the teachings of her faith and her freedom of conscience.

You folks, however, will not. You target Christians. A colleague of mine who’s an attorney on religious-liberty cases tells me he’s unaware of a single case in which a same-sex couple has sued a Muslim baker for declining a same-sex wedding ceremony. Progressives will not pursue Muslims, even as Muslim bakers likewise openly refuse homosexual couples. Leftists want Christian scalps in their culture war, not Muslim ones.

You folks are the true intolerants when it comes to Christian religious freedom. Show us otherwise by having the decency to leave the Bladensburg memorial cross alone.

Paul Kengor
Paul Kengor
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Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., and senior academic fellow at the Center for Vision & Values. Dr. Kengor is author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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