Banning The Cross

Ann Marie Devaney
Ann Marie Devaney
Ann Marie Devaney placed the cross near where her son was struck and killed. A controversy involving this roadside memorial took center stage in Lake Elsinore in March 2014. Two memorial crosses were dedicated to a young man who died there two years ago, but the boy's mother was ordered to take them down. | Photo: | Ann Marie Devaney, Religion, Rights, Constitution, Car Accident, Memorial,

Turning Hatred Into Law

America's atheist movement seems to be in full force in their efforts to remove all vestiges of Christianity from American life.

One case caught my eye recently because it is happening in a tiny Kansas town not far from the similarly tiny Kansas town where I grew up. The group "Americans United for Separation of Church and State" has threatened to sue USD 381 in Spearville, Kansas, over a cross on the top of its elementary school building.

Now, it's important to note that the town of Spearville did not build its school with a cross on top. The building was originally built as a Catholic school (Saint John's) in 1925. Fifty years later, in 1975, the area diocese gave the school building to the local school district. The cross was an original part of the building, not something the school district added, so claiming that it is a government endorsement of religion is as patently ridiculous as it would be to claim that the name "SAINT JOHN," which still graces the front facade right below the cross, does the same.

But to these religion-haters, the mere presence of a cross in any proximity to a public school is something that cannot be tolerated.

The board of USD 381 has chosen to take no action until a law suit is actually filed.

Another case has made the news recently that is equally, if not more ridiculous than the situation in Spearville.

In May of 2012, a 19-year-old man was hit by a vehicle and killed as he crossed a road in Lake Elsinore, California. His mother put up a cross in his memory near the site where her son died. On March 4, 2014, the American Humanist Association, which had just won a court victory against a proposed veterans' memorial in Lake Elsinore, sent the family a letter demanding that they remove the cross, claiming that its presence on city land violates the First Amendment. The young man's mother, AnnMarie Devaney, agreed to capitulate to the group's demand, and on March 6, the family removed the cross ' though other members of the community, who apparently had a problem with the American Humanist Association bullying a private citizen in their town, put up their own crosses at the same spot.

I think this begs a question: in what way does a private citizen placing a memorial to her dead son by the side of a road constitute a government establishment of religion? What is it about crosses that has these atheist groups feeling so threatened?

The final case that's been making headlines recently involves the 9/11 Memorial ' and this one takes the cake. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, steel girders were found in the rubble of the World Trade Center that happened to be in the shape of a cross. As millions of people across America sought solace in their Christian faith in the wake of that terrible tragedy, the artifact became a significant symbol, and was eventually included in the 9/11 Memorial.

But the group "American Atheists" has sued,, arguing that since the 9/11 Memorial project received significant government funding, including a cross in the memorial violates the First Amendment. But this time, they went even further than that, claiming that all of the named plaintiffs in the case "have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer damages, both physical and emotional, from the existence of the challenged cross. Named plaintiffs have suffered, inter alia, dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack..."

They go on to demand either that the cross be removed from the memorial or that "equal acknowledgement of those non-Christians who were also victims of the 9/11 attack" be included.

As a rational human being, this confuses me greatly. Would it not stand to reason that, for a person who is not a Christian, that hunk of steel would just be a hunk of steel that came from the destroyed World Trade Center towers? It is just that, after all ' a large piece of rubble that just happened to be in the shape of a religious symbol. It is significant to the 9/11 Memorial in that it came from one of the collapsed towers, and just happens to hold extra significance for some religious people due to its shape. The idea that including that particular artifact in the memorial by any means excludes non-Christians from any acknowledgment in the 9/11 attack is ludicrous.

Would it have helped if the building had collapsed in a more inclusive manner, by leaving rubble shaped in a variety of religious symbols? That is a ridiculous notion, I know, but no more ridiculous than the assumption that the inclusion of this one piece of the World Trade Center is meant to exclude anyone "from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured in the 9/11 attack."

And what about the part about suffering "dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches?" If these people are truly so offended by a piece of debris that came from a collapsed building in a certain shape that they're getting indigestion and headaches from the fact that it exists, I would question whether that is the true cause of their issues. If the existence of a cross causes them such dire problems, how do they suffer the anguish of driving past cross-shaped utility poles on a daily basis? Do they go out of their way to avoid Christian churches on their daily commute because they feel that the presence of a cross is such an insult to them?

Last year, a New York judge threw out the case, but it is continuing through the appeals process.

Through the years, court precedent has muddied the waters over the true meaning of the First Amendment's religion clauses to the point that, today, they are almost completely incomprehensible. The very idea that an activist organization can now legitimately threaten a private citizen with a law suit over religious expression, or throw around law suits with impunity over objects that any reasonable person can see don't constitute a government establishment of religion goes directly counter to the First Amendment.

Of course, most people's understanding of the First Amendment these days doesn't go very far beyond the phrase "wall of separation between church and state," a single phrase that was taken out of context from one of Thomas Jefferson's letters. This brings the imagery of a Berlin Wall sort of separation between religion and government ' the two are separate, and never shall they meet.

But as with most things involving the Constitution and Bill of Rights, a firm understanding of the historical context is required to truly understand the meaning and intent behind the First Amendment's religion clauses.

America has a long and storied history when it comes to religious persecution, primarily involving the people who came to this nation specifically to escape such persecution in their home countries. The Founders knew well the dangers of excessive government entanglement in religion, as many of the original American colonists had come to America because their religious views clashed with their native government's mandated religion. It was in this context that the Bill of Rights included the phrase "Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion." In its historical context, it is plain to see that this means the American government will not establish one national religion.

However, the idea that government and religion must be completely separate is a modern concept that has been purposely perpetuated by anti-religious atheism activists.

After our nation's founding, there were several states that had their own official Christian denominations. The Bible was used as a primer for students to learn how to read in public schools across the nation. Presidents made references to God all of the time in speeches and proclamations. The entire purpose of our national holiday of Thanksgiving is to thank God for our nation's freedom and prosperity. One of the first churches in Washington, D.C. was held in the well of the House of Representatives, and it was attended by many government officials, including many of the drafters of the Constitution.

Given that historical context, the idea that one phrase taken from one letter written by one of our nation's founders could be used to completely redefine one of our fundamental rights is absolutely ridiculous, yet that is where we stand today. We have gone from a nation that treasured religious liberty and the positive effects that Judeo-Christian morality have on our society to a nation on the verge of allowing certain people to convert their personal hatred towards religion into national policy.

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Updated May 22, 2018 6:39 PM UTC | More details


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