This has been an issue brewing in San Diego for some time, but the Marine Commandant is supposedly coming to a decision and it is starting to receive national attention, so I thought I'd give it a post. A group of Marines (three of whom later died in combat themselves), widows and other veterans privately placed a 13-foot cross on a mountaintop in remembrance of their fallen comrades during the Iraq war. The rub, the mountain is on Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps Base, federal land, raising questions of the separation of church and state.
Although built by a Chaplain, the Marines and widows claim that crosses have become a generalized symbol of the dead (when someone dies in a road accident people often place crosses at the scene of their death, for example) and is a memorial to all fallen Marines regardless of religious affiliation. Furthermore, the site has become something of a pilgrimage site for other Marines who go to lay stones and other momentos for their fallen friends, or just to be alone with their pain and reflect. They also state that the cross is deep into Camp Pendleton's interior, not capable of being seen by the public or other Marines for that matter, due to its seclusion. They claim it has only become an issue because of a news article detailing the replacement of the cross after the cross that stood for ten years was destroyed in a wildfire. No Marines appear to ever have formally complained.
Jason Torpy of the Washington-based Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers said his group does not believe the cross put up Friday is constitutional and has asked base officials to explain why it is being allowed.
"No cross or statue of Jesus represents military service," Torpy said in a written statement. "Military service is being exploited to secure unconstitutional Christian privilege."
Camp Pendleton issued a statement saying the cross has not been officially sanctioned."
The memorial cross activity ... was conducted by private individuals acting solely in their personal capacities," the statement from the base public affairs office said. "As such, they were not acting in any official position or capacity that may be construed as an endorsement of a specific religious denomination by the Department of Defense or the U.S. Marine Corps."
Torpy said giving access to the base, knowing a cross was being erected, amounts to tacit approval.
"Would they allow that for anyone else who wanted to put up something for atheists... ?," he said.
The cross's establishment continues what Torpy said is a trend of religious monuments being confused with secular war memorials.
Torpy said his group works on behalf of an estimated 40,000 atheists in the U.S. military. It also raises concerns when military officials or troops engage in proselytizing or give preferential treatment to one religion over another.
He said more than 50 percent of his group's roughly 2,000 members are active-duty troops.
The group has more than 100 members in Southern California and tries to focus on the positive as it fights for the rights of atheists and nonbelievers in the military, leaving it to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union to file formal complaints.
The San Diego ACLU objected to that cross as a religious symbol and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling it unconstitutional. That prompted an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to say whether it will consider that case.
I should mention that the 9th Circuit (or Circus as it has come to be called) is the most overturned court in the country and as such, their original ruling is hardly set in stone. Religious symbols on public land has become a rather convoluted issue in our court system with different courts holding divergent opinions. The Supreme Court however has so far been quite weary of taking a possibly landmark precedent making case on the subject.
Many in San Diego subscribe to the Marine's point of view and don't see the big deal (it doesn't hurt anyone where it is and just let them honor their friends) and want the cross to say. San Diego is also an extremely pro-military town due to the numerous bases that surround the city. As a result, San Diegans cricle the wagons on anything seen as being anti-soldier, especially fallen ones. Should become quite heated as the Commandant comes closer to a decision.
MILITARY: Atheist group objects to memorial cross at Camp Pendleton (some of the points I mentioned are not in the article, but being in San Diego, I get much of my information from the local nightly news)
Author's Note: I posted this with apprehension as I don't want it to turn into another pointless debate on religious merit. I merely wanted a conversation on this case and religious symbols on public lands in general. What is the big deal? Who cares? Why is it okay? Is it ever okay? Why is it never okay? Thank you.
It's not a big deal to me. Seems like one of the least meaningful disputes over separation of church and state in terms of what it would accomplish for the atheist group. Maybe they're hoping for a symbolic victory or looking to cause controversy to gain attention for action in the future.
I also didn't know any form of religious display was against the law. Don't armies have chaplains and churches for the soldiers? Were the soldiers Christian? If so a memorial using a cross would make sense.
I can understand their motivation. I wouldn't want federal property to be used as advertisement for sects or religious groups in Germany either. But it seems rather petty to remove a memorial for the dead.
I should also mention that this harks back to the Mount Soledad cross controversy that gets San Diegans foaming at the mouth in anger. As a result of the Mount Soledad case, San Diegans are very defensive about cross memorials for fear a negative outcome could have repercussions on the Mount Soledad cross which has become a memorial, historical landmark and an important part of San Diego culture.
A cross has been on top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla, California since 1913. Architect Donald Campbell designed the present Latin cross in recessed concrete with a twelve-foot arm spread in 1954. The current Mount Soledad cross is a 29-foot (9 m)-tall cross (43 feet tall, including the base) that was erected in 1954 .
Beginning in 1989, almost ten years before the immediate area around the cross was turned into a war memorial, and ongoing to the present, the Mt. Soledad Cross had been involved in a continuous litigation regarding its legal status. According to the interpretation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and No Preference Clause of the California Constitution by the opponents of the cross, it is illegal to display a religious symbol, such as a Christian cross, on public land, as it demonstrates preference to a specific religion and thus violates the separation of church and state. Judges have sided with plaintiffs on multiple occasions and ruled that the cross is illegal and had to be removed or sold to the highest bidder. Defenders of the cross explored several options for preserving the cross.
In 1998, after the sale by the City of the cross and the land it stands on to the nonprofit Mount Soledad Memorial Association, the cross was transformed into being the centerpiece of a newly erected Korean War Memorial. The land under the cross was eventually transferred to the federal government. So far, the Courts have decided, even if the transfer itself is legal, it does not solve the fundamental problem of the argument that the cross is not legal on any government-owned property. The latest decision has been appealed and is likely to go to the Supreme Court.
MrFancypants;5632576I can understand their motivation. I wouldn't want federal property to be used as advertisement for sects or religious groups in Germany either. But it seems rather petty to remove a memorial for the dead.
Well, to play Devil's Advocate, crosses have become a popular symbol for war memorials and atheist groups claim and are claiming in this instance that they are used to promote a Christian message while stifling criticism of that message for fear of touching a third-rail in American society, disrespecting fallen soldiers. The Mount Soledad Cross is a good example of this, originally built as an Easter Cross it was turned into a war memorial when people began to question the Christian symbol on public land. Through this however, many argue the cross has become relatively secular in people's minds but impromptu religious events are still held at the site.
Dear butthurt atheists*,
Shut the hell up and deal with it. It's not there to advertise religion that you so hate, it's to honor some dead soldiers. Stop causing more grief for the surviving family members, and go find something deserving to complain about (maybe the Westboro Baptist Church for instance).
*Talking about these atheists, not atheists in general.
Voice of joy and sunshine
26th May 2003
If I stick a swastika up and say that's a tribute to the soldiers, do I get away with that too? Would that be honoring them?
You honor people by living out and representing their values. It's only a tribute if the soldiers stood for those values, otherwise it's a lie, an insult, a perversion of what they stood for.
I don't know about as a strong agnostic, I don't really see what that's got to do with it - I could as well make this argument as a Muslim - but I can see good reasons to keep such symbols away from public land: These things are not value-neutral. The cross is a symbol of Christianity, and is a tribute only to people who share Christian values. Just as the Swastika would be a tribute only to people who shared Nazi values, or the Menorah would be a tribute only to Jews.
If you would allow one giant statue, you should allow all the giant statues - from all the value systems. And I don't think any of you area prepared for the forty foot Swastikas, or even, if I'm honest, the forty foot Menorahs. I think you're just okay with it because the cross is from a religion whose values you mostly agree with - or consider harmless - and the minute that didn't hold you'd be up in arms.
Red Menace;5632559when someone dies in a road accident people often place crosses at the scene of their death, for example
I've never seen that done by anyone who isn't a Christian - at least not in this country - and even then it's pretty damn rare. The general thing is flowers and photos, candles, that sort of thing. It's not a generalised symbol of death, it's a Christian symbol that Christians sometimes associate with death.
Nemmerle;5632597I've never seen that done by anyone who isn't a Christian - at least not in this country - and even then it's pretty damn rare.
Which is, interestingly enough, not the country I'm talking about. Here (in California since I too can't speak for everyone), yes, Christians are known to do it for their loved ones (and is a fairly common occurrence). However, other advocacy groups also place them to raise awareness about road safety and in fact was done by law enforcement until it became taboo for them to do so.
40 foot Menorah would be kinda badass though.
Nemmerle;5632597I've never seen that done by anyone who isn't a Christian - at least not in this country - and even then it's pretty damn rare.[/QUOTE]Which is, interestingly enough, not the country I'm talking about. Here (in California since I too can't speak for everyone), yes, Christians are known to do it for their loved ones and is a fairly common occurrence. However, other advocacy groups also place them to raise awareness about road safety and in fact was done by law enforcement until it became taboo for them to do so.It's not a generalised symbol of death, it's a Christian symbol that Christians sometimes associate with death.
Pretty sure, even in a Christian sense it is almost exclusively associated with death. Since it references the death of Jesus on the cross for their sins.
[QUOTE=SeinfeldisKindaOk;5632605]40 foot Menorah would be kinda badass though.
There is a quite large one on a hillside overlooking the freeway a ways north from here. I believe it is a Jewish kids camp or something.
Voice of joy and sunshine
26th May 2003
Red Menace;5632606Which is, interestingly enough, not the country I'm talking about. Here (in California since I too can't speak for everyone), yes, Christians are known to do it for their loved ones and is a fairly common occurrence. However, other advocacy groups also place them to raise awareness about road safety and in fact was done by law enforcement until it became taboo for them to do so.[/QUOTE]
The fact that it's used far more in one of the more religious countries doesn't seem a convincing argument for its secular nature.
[QUOTE=Red Menace;5632606]Pretty sure, even in a Christian sense it is almost exclusively associated with death. Since it references the death of Jesus on the cross for their sins.
Hmm, be that as it may it's obviously a different sense of the idea than the one concerned here.