US Supreme Court rules cross generic

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Last week the US Supreme Court ruled that a transfer of land, holding a cross erected in the Mojave National Preserve in California then sold to a private group after a lower court ruled that the cross violated the 1st amendment, needed to be reassessed in light of their holding that a Latin cross is a generic symbol of war dead. The ruling opens a can of worms that neither believers or non-believers might enjoy.

On April 28th, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Salazar v. Buono that a lower court ruling on a law enacted by Congress to transfer 1 acre of land under a Latin cross to a private group should be reconsidered.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority:

“A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies would be compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”

Salazar v. Buono

When the case was heard back in October 2009, the following exchange took place:

Peter J. Eliasberg, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said many Jewish war veterans would not want to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.”

Justice Antonin Scalia responded that the symbol in the context of a war memorial carried a more general meaning. “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead,” he said.

Mr. Eliasberg said, “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew.”

Justice Scalia, who is usually jovial even in disagreement, turned angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that the cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

Justices’ Ruling Blocks Cross Removal

So basically the court set aside the lower court ruling, that the land transfer was an attempt to evade the 1st amendment issue, because the Latin cross was a generic war memorial.

Kennedy wrote again:

“It could not maintain the cross without violating the injunction,” he wrote, “but it could not remove the cross without conveying disrespect for those the cross was seen as honoring.”

He added, “The land transfer-statute embodies Congress’s legislative judgment that this dispute is best resolved through a framework and policy of accommodation for a symbol that, while challenged under the Establishment Clause has complex meaning beyond the expression of religious views.”

This illustrates how Christian privilege can blind a person into a bad decision. The majority of the court assumed that the cross was a secular symbol of war dead and not the sectarian symbol everyone else sees. The Latin cross simply does NOT include everyone.

Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent:

“Making a plain, unadorned Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular,” he added. “It makes the war memorial sectarian.”

Making the cross secular also bothers some religious folks:

“I think that most American evangelicals would acknowledge that it probably is, in our culture, more than a Christian symbol,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

That’s fine, he said, “as long as it’s not less than a Christian symbol.”

Land said he’d rather have the cross stay up under Kennedy’s line of argument than have authorities eradicate crosses from cemeteries.

When a Supreme Court justice says the cross is not just about Christianity, it diminishes Jesus’ charge to his followers to “take up their cross and follow me,” said Read Churchyard, an expert on symbolism and iconography at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Is Supreme Court’s Cross Ruling Good For Christians?

The fact is that the court rulings on crosses isn’t an attempt to “have authorities eradicate crosses from cemeteries”. It is to protect the 1st amendment and keep the government from favoring a particular sect when building a memorial to a group of people like war veterans. No one has ever complained about what individual families use to mark their dead in a public cemetery.

Ignoring the fact that not all people are Christian is as disrespectful as erecting a Nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall during holiday season.

Skye Jethani teaches us how to marginalize minorities

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Skye Jethani is an ordained pastor and author who wrote a recent article on Huffington Post titled “What Evangelicals and Atheists Have in Common” that shows us how a Christian apologist can marginalize atheists or other religious minorities and frame a “concern” into a positive spin about one’s own religion.

Jethani gets right to the point:

For example, some within New Atheism are proselytizing their beliefs with the fervor, and in come cases anger, more often associated with evangelicals. From an international ad campaign on buses dismissing belief in God, to rallies at universities inviting students to exchange their Bibles for pornography, atheists are no longer content with a live-and-let-live approach to those adhering to religion. Instead, they are actively trying to convert (or is the word un-convert?) the masses.

What Evangelicals and Atheists Have in Common

He forwards a false notion that atheists not remaining the submissive quiet doormats he is use to is some how “new”. He also believes that atheists speaking out and using some of the same techniques that Christian believers use to advance their religion is some how against our atheist beliefs.

Christians like Skye Jethani typically miss the forest for the trees and that is understandable when one is in the dominate religion in the country. It is much like how many white men never seem to understand how their male privilege hurts women and other minorities in society. When one is on “top” it is hard to see or understand those under you.

To me Jethani’s remarks are just like if he had said “look at those black people using advertising and publicity stunts to get noticed. Who do they think they are?”

In another part of his essay he complains about Christopher Hitchens’ fiery comments about religion – which again isn’t new. Jethani tries again to draw a false parallel with loud mouth evangelicals:

Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, one evangelical leader made the following statement, for which he subsequently apologized:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, “You helped this happen.”

Sadly, these kinds of judgments are not uncommon. Other church leaders made similar remarks after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and following the earthquake in Haiti. Presumably, according to the logic within these proclamations, the way to prevent terrorist attacks and natural disasters in one’s country is by earning the Almighty’s affection and protection through moral behavior, adherence to prayer, traditional family values, and frequent worship.

While I applaud the effort to acknowledge that some on his side are butt-heads, notice how Jethani doesn’t NAME the person who said any of the nasty things he complains about? He is quick to point the finger at Hitchens and Richard Dawkins but when it comes to naming those on the evangelical side Jethani is mum.

Any atheist who is worth their salt KNOWS who said the quote Jethani mentions and not naming the guy is an effort – as happens most often when direct names aren’t used – to minimize what was said.

What really is new about these so-called “New Atheists” is we are finally tired of the expectation that we remain silent and deferential to Christian privilege. It isn’t harming Christians to point out their privilege and we get tired of their constant whining about being a victim.

If and when people like Skye Jethani start calling out their brothers and sisters and stop rationalizing their privilege then maybe we atheists won’t seem so loud and hurtful to them.

Update on Campus Christian Group Supreme Case

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The Associated Press published an update to the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law vs. Christian Legal Society that I posted earlier about. It includes some of the questions and responses during the US Supreme Court session.

Alito asked Garre what the practical effects of Hastings’ policy will be for groups. Say “there is a small Muslim group; it has 10 students. If the group is required to accept anybody who applies for membership, and 50 students who hate Muslims show up and they want to take over that group, you say First Amendment allows that?” Alito said.

Garre said that has never happened to a group.

“CLS obviously thinks this is a real threat,” Alito said. “Now, what do you propose that they do?”

Garre said the members who are now outnumbered can leave the group.

“If hostile members take over, former members of CLS can form CLS 2?” Alito asked skeptically.

The Christian group could require knowledge of the Bible to join, Garre said. “There is a fundamental difference between excluding people on the basis of merit and excluding people on the basis of status or belief that has no connection to merit,” he said.

Court Splits Sharply On Campus Christian Argument

Just as I wrote earlier, these Christian groups that have issues with excluding people who don’t subscribe to their beliefs are worried about having their groups taken over by their opponents. That has never happened as far as I know.

The problem is if you want state recognition and funds you can’t exclude people based on beliefs.

Court To Hear Arguments On Campus Christian Group

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There is a current conflict between religious college campus groups who discriminate and the non-discrimination policies many colleges have. The US Supreme Court is planning on visiting the issue. It seems clear to me.

Having attended college and experienced first hand the rules groups have to abide by for recognition and funding, it doesn’t seem like a big deal for Christian groups to let people who don’t follow their strict moral rules to attend and lead the group. We’re not talking about a Church.

I just think the group in question, and most strict campus religious groups are paranoid about having their groups taken over – which rarely if ever happens.

The California university said it requires all registered student organizations to be nondiscriminatory if they want to operate on campus, regardless of viewpoint.

Groups that support gay rights “cannot exclude students who believe homosexuality is morally wrong any more than CLS is permitted to exclude students who believe it is not,” university lawyer Gregory Garre said in court papers.

Court To Hear Arguments On Campus Christian Group

Except for the silence, yes not all believers are wackos

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As usual there has been a lot of ink spilled over a book by an atheist who went undercover as an evangelical who came out the other side with some empathy for the common believer. Our church and state issues have never been about the average John and Jane Believer. The issues come up and the anger boils because John and Jane remain silent while their leaders stir things up and cause the problems.

As one conservative blog post noted:

Reading Welch’s interview makes you wonder if perhaps those “objective” media people who rain fire on evangelicals ought to immerse themselves a little more. Welch felt she learned a little about how evangelism doesn’t have to be hostile:

Evangelism seemed invasive to me. I thought of it as an imperialistic arrogance — that they wanted to overpower people. My experience with evangelism was something very different. They felt that they could do something about the eternal suffering of others. I came to see evangelism instead as a kind of empathy. That made me feel like there was something in it I could respect.

For her part, Time’s Olofsson seemed skeptical that Welch would actually find nice, sincere people in the “enemy” camp…

Atheist Author Laments Evangelicals Painted by Media as ‘Brainwashed, Simple-Minded, Angry’

So while noting that the atheist admitted she was wrong to paint with a large brush, the author of the blog post saw no reason to return the favor. At the end of the post they wrote this:

Welch clearly had a problem with “homophobia” in the church she investigated. It wasn’t explained how Jesus would have favored “gay marriage.”

We have once again seen where a public face of evangelical is at odds with the actual everyday evangelical in practice yet the average evangelical stays silent.

There might be more understanding and less hostility if angry evangelicals would go undercover in an atheist group and see how we aren’t all brainwashed and angry either.

Oklahoma Seeks to Ban Sharia Law

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I am so glad someone is doing something about this (end snark) of course it messes up the meme to mention that Biblical law needs to be banned and probably, based on the text of the release, might mean that courts can’t use British common law as a base for rulings either.

OKLAHOMA CITY (March 15, 2010) – State lawmakers have voted to allow Oklahoma voters to prevent judicial rulings in foreign countries from impacting local court decisions through approval of the “Save Our State” constitutional amendment.

The proposed amendment declares that courts “shall not consider international law or Sharia Law.”

Legislation Advances to Prevent Foreign Court Rulings from Impacting Oklahomans’ Rights

So this not only strikes out at Islam but also the United Nations because it would ban entry of any treaty or international law the US is signed on to.