Feature

The Mojave cross and the Constitution

Does the Constitution permit religious symbols in war memorials on public land?

It's time for the Mojave cross to come down, said The New York Times in an editorial. The Veterans of Foreign Wars erected it in 1934—in what is now the Mojave National Preserve—to honor America’s World War I dead, but "its religious significance is clear." The controversy over the cross is now up to the Supreme Court, which, if it cares about the separation of church and state, should rule that public land is no place for religious symbols.

You're reading the Constitution wrong, said Ted Cruz and Kelly Shackelford in The Wall Street Journal. The First Amendment "prohibits government from favoring one religion over another, but it does not compel hostility to faith" in general. Besides, the Mojave cross merely does what the "white crosses and Stars of David at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in France" do —it causes people to reflect on the sacrifices "so many brave souls have made for our nation."

"Christian crosses and other religious symbols are common sights in a military cemetery, and appropriately so," said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. But the Mojave National Preserve is not a cemetery. "It would offend the First Amendment if the court endorsed this discriminatory display in a public space. Even worse would be a broad decision opening the way for other such displays."

War memorials are not the same as displays set up by religious groups, said the Thomas More Law Center in Catholic Exchange. "They provide places where family members, friends, and comrades of our war veterans can pay tribute to their heroes’ sacrifices. Consequently, these memorials, including the crosses, convey an unmistakably American message of patriotism and self-sacrifice; they do not 'establish' Christianity as a national religion, as the ACLU and others who are hostile to religion contend."

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