Religion in Society

Atheists: High Court Erodes Separation in Christian Mojave Cross Ruling

| by American Atheists

An Atheist public policy group today expressed concern over Monday's ruling by the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of a scheme to transfer ownership of an enormous Latin cross situated on public land.

The 5-4 decision said that a lower court acted improperly when it invalidated federal legislation to authorize transfer of the land on which the Mojave Christian cross sits to a private group.

"The majority in this controversial case has essentially endorsed a transparently fraudulent scheme to keep religious symbols standing even when their presence violated constitutional prohibitions on government endorsement of such illegal actions," said Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists. "The proper remedy was for the court to put an end to such devious practices, and uphold the First Amendment. Americans do not need and should not want the government involved in religious decisions or practices for us."

Buckner added that the ruling also reflects the deep ideological divide on the high court, and noted that Justice John Paul Stevens -- who joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor in a joint dissent -- intends to retire shortly.

"We hope that President Obama will name a replacement who has a strong commitment to the First Amendment and who will be skeptical of the disingenuous rationales that are being used to erode state-church separation in our country," said Buckner.

Dave Silverman, Communications Director and Vice President for American Atheists, said that Monday's ruling sets a dangerous precedent in cases of religious symbols on government property.

"It sends a signal that government can engage in all sorts of ruses and deceptions in order to keep Christian crosses or other religious icons on public property." Silverman pointed out that in some cases, like San Francisco's Mount Davidson Christian Cross, "all you have to do is sell-off a sliver of land to a 'private group' and put up a warning plaque stating that this is private property."

"If they can do this on one kind of public land, why not another?" added Mr. Silverman. "Could someone sell a sliver of land inside a public school to a private entity just to post a cross? In a courtroom? The next step won't be in another desert. It will be much more visible. And more dangerous to religious liberty."