Imagine Arlington Cemetery with no crosses. Imagine the Word “God” sandblasted from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Imagine Biblical verses removed from the U.S. Capitol.
This is the world the radical atheists want. This is the world they almost have.
First Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest legal organization dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom, is currently appealing a case to the Supreme Court so that this doesn’t happen.
Here’s how it began. In 1925, Gold Star families and the American Legion (the largest veterans service organization in the U.S.), built the 40-foot-tall Bladensburg Veteran’s Memorial, also known as the “Peace Cross,” in memory of the 49 men of Prince George’s County, Maryland who died in World War I. The names of the 49 deceased veterans and the words “Courage,” “Valor,” “Endurance” and “Devotion” appear on the monument.
The cross stood as a peaceful memorial to the fallen veterans until February 2014, when the American Humanist Association (AHA) claimed that the monument unconstitutionally violated the Establishment Clause because of its public ownership, and demanded that it be demolished, altered or removed. The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled in favor of the monument’s constitutionality citing the cross as a military symbol for sacrifice, courage and remembrance. However, in December 2015, the AHA appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that the memorial was unconstitutional. On March 1, 2018, the Fourth Circuit denied the en banc rehearing, leaving an appeal to the Supreme Court as the final option.
Hiram Sasser, chief counsel for First Liberty notes, “If this [the Fourth Circuit] decision stands, other memorials including those in nearby Arlington Cemetery—will be targeted for destruction as well.” If the decision from the Fourth Circuit stands, and the Supreme Court refuses to hear the appeal case, it would mean that all crosses on public property are “unconstitutional.”
The case rests on whether the Establishment Clause, the first sentence of the First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” prohibits the public display of crosses.
The establishment of a religion means having an official, government-sponsored religion. Some have also interpreted the Establishment Clause as meaning government “neutrality.” According to the American Humanist Association’s website, the Establishment Clause also prohibits the government from “entangling itself in religious matters without a religiously neutral reason.” Government ought to be “neutral” toward religion and not favor one over the other. But a big difference exists between “neutrality” and “hostility.”
While the AHA claims “Good Without A God,” as their motto, is it fair or tolerant to force that belief on everyone else? Radical atheism does not say, “I believe in nothing, and you can believe in God if you want.” Rather, it says, “I believe in nothing and it is my right to not see, hear or experience anything about God anywhere.” Whether it is “No you can’t pray” or “No you can’t put a Bible verse there,” or “No, I don’t want to see a cross—even if it’s in the middle of the desert,” the radical atheists do not seek to live in mutual tolerance. They cannot rest until they have converted all of society into a religiously sterile culture. Our legal system should not bow down to this dogmatic, anti-tolerant behavior as the “neutral” option. Rather, radical atheists should practice the tolerance they demand from others.
Following their Fourth Circuit win, AHA’s Senior Counsel, Monica Miller, who argued the case, stated,
“This is a big win not only for separation of church and state, but for all non-Christian veterans who are excluded from an enormous Christian cross war memorial.”
But how many of the fallen men were actually atheists? The families of the fallen soldiers decided on that particular shape to remember their fallen sons, brothers and husbands. Would it not dishonor their choice to remove or destroy it? If, in fact, the non-Christian veterans feel excluded, why do they not build their own non-cross memorial?
Further, while the AHA argues that the cross represents a sectarian, exclusionary religious symbol, the cross also represents military heroism. Some of the highest military honors include crosses such as the Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force Cross, the Navy Cross, and others granted for exemplary military service. The cross also stands as an internationally-recognized symbol of bravery and sacrifice as exemplified in the Victoria Cross in England and the Croix de Guerre (or the Cross of War) in France.
The cross also represents a memorial. These men lost their lives in a foreign war on foreign soil. While some of their bodies were later repatriated, many were buried overseas. For several families, the “Peace Cross” stood as the only place where grieving families could pay honor to their loved ones.
Michael Carvin, lead counsel for The American Legion and partner at Jones Day notes, “This memorial has stood in honor of local veterans for almost 100 years and is lawful under the First Amendment. To remove it would be a tremendous dishonor to the local men who gave their lives during the Great War.”
The case also has bipartisan support. Eight Republican and Democratic members of Congress joined in support of the memorial by filing an amicus brief with the Fourth Circuit Court.
Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty states,
“Memorials are living reminders of our country’s history and the cost of war. How will we remember the fallen or teach the next generation about service and sacrifice if we start bulldozing veterans memorials and cemeteries across America? We will continue our work to overturn this decision and defend the memory of those who preserved freedom.”
Learn more and sign the petition: DontTearMeDown.com
Image: Bladensburg World War I Veterans Memorial
Image credit: First Liberty Institute
Originally published on Patriot Post, March 15, 2018
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case currently pending at the Supreme Court, involves Jack Phillips, a pastry chef who declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds of religious conscience. Jack Phillips, a Christian, felt that it would be against his faith to endorse the wedding, but offered to sell them other pastries in the store or to bake another cake for a different occasion.
While the couple ultimately found another bakery to meet their needs, they filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This complicated case now awaits a decision at the Supreme Court and involves a variety of issues including public accommodation laws, artistic expression, religious rights, business rights, government coercion, and fair and equal treatment before the law.
First, public accommodation laws came from English common law which defined certain industries as public, so that no one could be excluded. This was particularly useful for travelers who needed a place to stay, a place to eat, or a ferry to ride.
In the early 1960’s, African-Americans in this country still lived within racial stratification. This included exclusion from lodging, transportation, restaurants, bathrooms and water fountains. The public accommodation law, known as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, gave fair and equal access to these services for African-Americans. This law addressed a systemic problem of racism within the United States and gave equal access to a group previously excluded.
Those prosecuting Jack Phillips claim that his refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding is the same as denying the service based on a person’s race. In other words, in terms of public accommodation law, a person’s sexual orientation is equivalent to race.
But is it?
First, Jack did not refuse to serve the same-sex couple. He offered them other items in the store and offered to bake them a cake for another occasion. He declined a specific event. He didn’t decline to serve the people.
Second, comparing the current treatment of same-sex couples to that of pre-Civil Rights Act African-Americans is not a fair comparison. Same-sex couples can buy a train, plane or bus ticket. They can buy a house, stay at a hotel, use public restrooms, and drink from public water fountains. They simply cannot buy all wedding services from all wedding service providers. This problem was quickly solved when they found another bakery to suit their needs. This is not a systemic barring from society which necessitates the application of the public accommodation law.
This case attempts to misapply public accommodation laws to grant government recognition of a specialized interest group. It must be remembered that the original intent of the Civil Rights Act public accommodation laws addressed the specific issue of race. If we expand public accommodation laws to accommodate every grievance group, when does it stop? Do people with bad credit have a “right” to a home loan because to do otherwise discriminates against them?
Interestingly, the arguments of the case center around the discrimination against the same-sex couple, but fail to recognize the discrimination against Christians, Christian beliefs and conscience rights. Jack Phillips had a religious objection to baking a wedding cake for the same-sex couple. Yet, those prosecuting him argue that when a person enters public sales, they lose their “right” to conscience. This argument states that there are “limits” to conscience, which is a fancy way of saying that there are limits to religious freedom in the public square. Yet, when the government “limits” conscience, it essentially controls it, which stands as the very opposite of religious freedom.
To provide an analogy, what if a neo-Nazi requested a swastika cake from a Kosher bakery. Would the Jewish baker have the right to say, “No?” Or does the neo-Nazi have a “right” to demand a service from service provider who philosophically and religiously objects to a request?
Such arguments compromise artistic freedom as well as religious freedom by compelling artists, singers, florists, videographers and others to compromise their deeply held religious beliefs. As Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, who represents Jack Phillips, stated, “This court [Supreme Court] has never, never compelled artistic expression or ideological speech and if it does so now, it will lead to a less pluralistic, less diverse, and less tolerant society.”
Additionally, arguments of government coercion would also compel a lesbian graphic designer to design wedding invitations for a heterosexual couple even if she objects. In any other business, the owner has the right to say no. “No, I can’t take on that project because my mother is dying and I’m her primary caretaker.” “No, I can’t paint that painting because I’m pregnant and the fumes would harm the baby.” “No, I’m retired, and I don’t offer that service anymore.” But when it is “No, I religiously or philosophically disagree” why does that change the rights of the business owner to decline?
When the government forces business owners to perform a certain function, we must also ask ourselves, “Who really owns the business?” Do businesses have a right to make their own decisions, or are they merely private-sector arms of the government?
Ultimately, we must make laws that protect fair and equal treatment of all people, not laws which grant rights to some groups to the exclusion of others. Laws which coerce people to act against their religious conscience, which limit artistic expression and strip the business owner of his or her ability to decline, limits freedom, rather than expanding it.
Such laws grant rights to those who demand a service while simultaneously stripping the rights of those who have a religious objection to those demands. Such exclusionary policy stands as a loss for everyone’s freedom. It transforms people of conscience into an excluded minority whose appeal to First Amendment religious rights will be systematically ignored.
Rights and tolerance must be a balance. While we treat lifestyle choices with tolerance and sensitivity, we must also treat a person’s religious beliefs with that same tolerance and sensitivity. As Justice Kennedy stated in regard to the case, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it is mutual.”
Postscript: The Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop on June 4, 2018.
Originally published on Patriot Post, March 8, 2018.
Image credit: Spee/BigStock