By Joseph L. Conn
For Christians, it’s Holy Week, and you don’t have to look too far to find crosses on display at churches and other venues. As pretty much everyone knows, that symbol represents the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday and is generally regarded as the central representation of the Christian faith.
But if you ask the lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), you might get a different take.
The Religious Right group just asked the Supreme Court to intervene in a case from Utah dealing with 12-foot crosses displayed – with government approval – along the roadside to honor fallen state troopers.
The ADF attorneys, who represent the Utah Highway Patrol Association, put forward a lot of arguments to get the justices’ attention and one of them was this:
“The memorials challenged here satisfy constitutional scrutiny…because, when viewed in context, their extensive biographical information, UHP logo, and roadside placement convey the nonreligious messages of individualized commemoration and roadway safety.”
Thus in a bid to keep the 13 crosses in place, the ADF is willing to say that display of the Christian symbol sends a secular message.
I don’t buy it, and I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t either. The cross is manifestly a representation of the Christian faith, and government co-optation of it in this way violates the First Amendment. This merger of government with religion undermines the separation of church and state.
This is not the same as personal displays of crosses (or stars of David or pentagrams, etc.) on the graves of fallen service personnel in military cemeteries. This is a government-sanctioned message that combines public recognition of the troopers and a plea for highway safety in a predominantly Christian context.
On a more practical level, we should note that state troopers come from different faiths, and some presumably follow no spiritual path at all. Why should the symbol of Christianity be used to commemorate them all?
And we would add that Christians should be very wary of any attempt to define the quintessential symbol of their faith as little more than a traffic safety sign. If the government wants motorists to slow down, it should put up a caution light or a speed camera, not a cross.
Let’s get real here. This lawsuit is being used by the Alliance Defense Fund to advance the governmental embrace of Christianity. This is the same outfit that just helped persuade the European Court of Human Rights to allow the display of crucifixes in public school classrooms in Italy. The ADF will go to any lengths and as far afield as necessary to push its fundamentalist theocratic agenda.
As ADF President Alan Sears told the shadowy Council for National Policy in March 2008, his group and they are in a “war for the soul of America.” The Utah lawsuit is just one battle in that larger conflict.
It’s a war we cannot let Sears & Company win.