Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tear Down that Cross!

A case is now winding through the courts concerning a cross that is on public land. The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) erected the cross in 1934 as a memorial for veterans of World War I. The VFW had owned the land but had transferred it to the government.

As other court cases found it wrong to have a cross on government land (based in part on the new-found meaning in the First Amendment that started several decades ago), in 2002 the U.S. Congress directed that one acre of the land (containing the cross) be transferred back the VFW in exchange for 5 acres of land of equal market value. But the 9th Circuit Court (the same one that said in a different case that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional) ruled this land transfer unconstitutional.

During this controversy, the cross had been covered in a plywood box so it would not offend anyone's constitutional rights. The 9th Circuit said the cross would have to be torn down, and the case is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Liberty Legal Institute filed a friend of the court brief representing the interests of the VFW, which said in part, "It is bad enough to say that the veterans’ memorial is unconstitutional, but it is outrageous to say that the government cannot give the monument back to the people who spilled their blood and put it there in the first place."


  • The Bill of Rights does have an Establishment Clause, which says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion;"
  • The Bill of Rights has a Free Exercise clause, which is the second half of the sentence above and says Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion
  • The Bill of Rights protects free speech
Given all that, how well does the 9th Circuit's decision uphold the entire Bill of Rights? If the VFW had erected a statue showing a soldier, we assume the ACLU would not have sued. So the cross is being removed solely because it is a religious icon (one that is also used at Arlington National Cemetery - when will the lawsuit about that government land commence?). Many of the cases brought against religious expression mixed with the government, including this one, a worry is expressed that an appearance of religious endorsement is a problem. But what kind of appearance is created by tearing down a cross that has been in place for 75 years? Or temporarily, what message does it send to have the cross covered in plywood (see image above)? Does that seem like freedom of religion and freedom of speech?

See a video showing the cross, then and now, on this page:

The ACLU description of the case is here:

The VFW is being helped by the American Center for Law and Justice, whose statement is here:

More opinion here:

American Spectator

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