A private non-profit association in Utah, the Utah Highway Patrol Association (UHPA), had been placing 12 foot tall white Latin crosses along roads and highways controlled by the state. The Utah Highway Patrol allowed the UHPA to use the trademark logo of the patrol as well. American Atheists filed suit in 2005 on 1st Amendment grounds and then on 10/31/2011 the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case leaving intact the ruling that the placement of crosses was unconstitutional. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ head exploded.
This again was an effort of religious right groups to make the Latin Cross generic which is the only way it might have made them constitutional.
The ADF attorneys, who represent the Utah Highway Patrol Association, put forward a lot of arguments to get the justices’ attention and one of them was this:
“The memorials challenged here satisfy constitutional scrutiny…because, when viewed in context, their extensive biographical information, UHP logo, and roadside placement convey the nonreligious messages of individualized commemoration and roadway safety.”
Thus in a bid to keep the 13 crosses in place, the ADF is willing to say that display of the Christian symbol sends a secular message.
10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David M. Ebel wrote in the decision given in August of 2010:
Here, we conclude that the cross memorials would convey to a reasonable observer that the state of Utah is endorsing Christianity. The memorials use the preeminent symbol of Christianity, and they do so standing alone (as opposed to it being part of some sort of display involving other symbols). That cross conspicuously bears the imprimatur of a state entity, the UHP, and is found primarily on public land.
*Side Note* – US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas went ape shit and breaking with typical court tradition wrote a 19 page rant against refusing to hear the case.
Justice Thomas was not pleased. In his dissent, he attacks the Supreme Court’s rulings in the area of religious symbols displays, saying this entire body of law has spawned confusion in lower courts. In fact, Thomas goes on to attack all of the high court’s rulings in the area of the Establishment Clause – that part of the First Amendment that says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” According to Thomas, the court’s decisions in this area “have gone hopelessly awry.”
Perhaps most shockingly, Thomas once again states his view that the First Amendment’s religious liberty provisions apply only to the federal government. In his view, the 50 states are free to “establish” any religion they want. In Thomas’ world, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was apparently never ratified.
There is so much wrong with Thomas’ assertions that it would take a much longer article to respond in full. I’ll summarize them like this: Thomas’ view of the U.S. Constitution is mired in the middle of the 19th century, and his views on church-state relations, I fear, come from the 13th.
Yes, Thomas is scary…