Sunday, August 5, 2012

This Is The Day Which The Lord Gaea Hath Made

The town of Steubenville, Ohio is the latest victim of the ban on Christian symbols in any monument, public space, or official document. One of Steubenville's most visible landmarks is the Franciscan University's Christ the King Chapel. Naturally, the church has a very visible cross. But the actual cross is not what the secularists were complaining about. Their beef was with the city's official seal which depicted the chapel, complete with cross.

The Steubenville city fathers caved in, and removed the offending pictorial cross from the city seal and stationery. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had complained that the historical depiction of the chapel and cross on the city's official logo was oppressive and exclusionary. Their exact words are: “Steubenville is a theocracy and is a Christian city where non-Christians are not favored citizens. The city may not depict the university chapel and cross, because to do so places the city's imprimatur behind Christianity. This excludes non-Christians and violates the Constitution.” Steubenville officials had attempted to argue, quite logically, that the depiction was historical and that the Christian nature of the depiction was secondary and insignificant. But they were shouted down, and that argument has met with mixed success nationwide.

The anti-Christians would undoubtedly like to remove the cross from the physical chapel itself, but since it is on private land owned by the Catholic Church, that isn't going to happen for a few years yet. The secularist removal of all things Christian has been a slow but growing movement, with more success than it deserves. So far, they have succeeded in removing clearly Christian symbols and monuments from land which is indisputably public land. Their success in removing even historical depictions of Christian landmarks on public documents is still in its early stages.

California has, of course, led the way in the attacks on Christian symbols appearing in anything official from the cities and counties. The depiction of an historical California mission on the official logo of the City of Los Angeles was altered to remove the cross. But it was a very small depiction on the logo to start with, so it wasn't immediately obvious to anyone viewing the change. The change in the prominent depiction in the seal of the County of Los Angeles is much more apparent.

As you can see from the illustration of the old seal, one section contains a stylized depiction of the Hollywood Bowl with a cross and two stars above it. The Hollywood Bowl had been the site of California's largest gathering of Christians for Easter sunrise services (non-denominational, but definitely Christian) for over eighty years. Times change, and in 2010, the services were canceled for lack of financial support. But the successful attack on the depiction on the County seal had begun far earlier than that.

In 2004, the ACLU took up the cause of the secularists and filed suit against the depiction of the cross on the seal. Historical preservationists argued that it could be replaced by a depiction of an historic Los Angeles Catholic mission (either San Gabriel or San Fernando) complete with cross as an integral part of the depiction of the building. What they finally got was a stylized depiction of a California mission building with no cross. Note the unidentifiable old Spanish-era building which replaced the stylized Hollywood Bowl and cross.

OK, at least they got rid of all that “religious stuff,” right? Well, not exactly. Who is that figure, prominently illustrated in the center of both the old and new county seals? A local Indian girl bringing food to the Catholic settlers? A young farmer's daughter showing off her abundant wares derived from the farmlands of Southern California? Nope. It is a depiction of the Roman Goddess Pomona, the symbol of fertility and abundant crops. If that ain't religion, what is it? But you can rest easy. Pagan gods are no threat to freedom from religion. Only oppressive Christians are a danger which must be eliminated. Note that the Hollywood Bowl (with two stars but no cross) was moved up a spot. So something had to go. They removed the politically-incorrect depiction of an oil well, in a county where the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine is king.

The introductory illustration (top of the page) is the Mt. Soledad Memorial Cross. It came under attack in the 90s. There has been litigation ever since. Located in San Diego, the cross was erected as a tribute to fallen soldiers. In fact it was first constructed in 1913 by veterans and was called “The Veterans Memorial.” Non-Christians managed to live their lives in the shadow of the memorial for nearly eighty years before anti-Christian forces determined that the cross was an official government endorsement of oppressive Christianity.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the City of San Diego sold the property to the private non-profit Mt. Soledad Memorial Association in 1998 which converted the land to a specifically Korean War memorial. That wasn't good enough for the ACLU, which complained that the land wasn't offered for public sale to all comers. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and the case went to the United States Supreme Court which just recently refused to hear the case. Negotiations are still ongoing based on the Ninth Circuit findings, but the cross is in serious danger of being removed permanently to satisfy the tender sensibilities of the non-religious. The Supreme Court might yet have to rule one way or the other, since its ruling (per Justice Scalia) was that negotiations subject to the Ninth Circuit ruling were still in process, and therefore the case was not yet ripe for a full Supreme Court hearing.

A somewhat different result occurred up north in San Francisco. The Mt. Davidson cross was first erected in 1923 on the highest point in San Francisco. It was destroyed and rebuilt, bigger each time, until it became the tallest free-standing cross in America. The land was originally owned by the prominent Sutro family, but was deeded over to the city after the first cross was erected for “public purposes.” It is lighted one day a year—Easter. The first lighting occurred when President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw a “golden switch” in Washington, DC.

But Christian oppression symbolized on public land is a no-no according to the ACLU, the American Jewish Congress, and the omnipresent Americans United for Separation of Church and State. As the lawsuits proceeded, the unthinkable happened. Proposition F was placed on the San Francisco ballot demanding retention of the cross. 68% (yes, you read that right) of the San Francisco population voted to retain the cross and to complete the pending sale of the cross and adjacent land to the Armenian-American Council of Organizations of Northern California. This time, unlike San Diego, it worked, because the city had put up the land for open bids, all comers. The Ninth Circuit confirmed the legitimacy of the sale. The Armenians purchased the cross and the land to convert it to a memorial to Armenians massacred in Turkey. Needless to say, the Turkish community was not happy.

Even the California deserts are not immune. A small cross on a low hill in the Mojave Desert was erected on private land in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1994, the land became part of the Mojave National Preserve and it was time for the lawsuits to begin. It got very silly. At one point, a wooden structure was built around the cross to prevent the sensitive from viewing it while the litigation was pending. That same year, Congress recognized the ongoing attack on historical but religious symbols on public land, and created the Land Transfer Act, designed to grant more land elsewhere in exchange for private ownership of less land where the historical/religious item was located.

Naturally, the ACLU and its anti-religious allies filed suit to stop the land transfer back to the VFW and to void the Land Transfer Act. Their argument was that even after transferring the land to a private organization, its presence in the midst of federal land “implied” government ownership. Even liberal Justice Elena Kagan found that argument specious, and voted with four other justices to uphold the Act and allow the cross to remain. The Court ruled that destruction of historical but religious objects versus historical preservation had created a “dilemma” which the Land Transfer Act solved.

So, it's win a few, lose a few. And here endeth the lesson for Sunday, August 5, 2012 AD (in the year of our Lord).



35 comments:

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

With the way the ACLU treats religious observances, couldn't the way we address the actual date be under attack. You see AD means after the birth of Jesus Christ. BC means before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Tennessee Jed said...

I am encouraged by the 68% response, though

Tennessee Jed said...

As an aside, I have a hard time understanding how having a Christian symbol (cross) on the official seal of Steubbenville would in any way violate the first amendment. Did Congress pass a law establishing a religion? I don't think so. Does it prohibit free exercise of anyone to practice their religion? Not really.

BevfromNYC said...

TennJ - I would be that you couldn't find many people who even KNEW that Steubenville even HAD an official seal until this lawsuit. Or in any other place that these lawsuits are filed. That's what makes all of this even more insidious. A cross or an image of cross that has been visible for generations suddenly is going to make everyone is going surround the nearest City Hall and declare it Christian-only.

When did we become so pin-headed in this country?

AndrewPrice said...

Steubenville is an ugly city full of mobsters. I know, I've lived just south of it and across the river. . . on the other bad side.

On the issue, I think it's insane that people are trying to purge cities of symbols that are historical just because they also happen to be religious. Get a life losers.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - Is there anywhere you haven't lived? ;-)

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: San Francisco, for all its left-lunacy, is not as antireligion as people might imagine. When the Catholic Archdiocese decided to close an historic church near my house, the City offered financial assistance (using its power to preserve historical monuments) and the citizens banded together to save it. Sadly, St. Brigid's closed anyway. The City still required the new owners (the Art Academy) to maintain the exterior exactly as it had been when it was a church. But I no longer got to hear those church bells on Sunday morning.

The central church for the Lutherans fared better. St. Marks got the same treatment as St. Brigid's, but the congregants did manage to raise enough money to preserve the building but keep it as a church. That loss would have been an even bigger one because the church is located on Cathedral Hill, along with many other notable historic churches.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: The First Amendment stricture was passed through to the states via the fourteenth amendment incorporation doctrine. Lengthy precedent declares that any municipal entity is an integral part of state government. So, Steubenville gets hit. Once you get past those fairly reasonable standards, you get to the church-haters. The Constitution really only forbids "excessive interference with religious practice and prohibition of the advancement of a religion." But the left and its fellow-travelers on the Court have regularly held that the least representation of or cooperation with a religion or any of its symbols is a violation of the establishment clause. That's just plain hooey, and it's going to take a long time and several conservative Supreme Courts to reverse that. The "historic" exception works as often as it fails, but for Steubenville, it failed.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: The answer to your "when" question is the mid-fifties and after under the Warren Court.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I had heard that Steubenville was Ohio's answer to Illinois' Cicero. You just confirmed it.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: This was arranged for Andrew and me when we were kids. He lived wherever I didn't and vice versa. LOL

When they were growing up, my kids quickly got to mocking me whenever we would travel. We'd get to a big city (anywhere outside the deep South), and they'd start teasing me with "when are you going to show us where you lived?" So before they'd have chance to do it, as we entered a city, I'd simply declare "I can see my house from here."

tryanmax said...

I think part of the problem is that the symbols are being defended on historical grounds rather than first amendment grounds. If the claim is that the presence of a symbol advances a religion, then the counter argument should simply be that it does not. I understand that in places like California, specious arguments may still win, but using the historical defense is a side-step and ought to lose.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: Sadly, this is ultimately a federal issue which California and Ohio both have to deal with. But as I mentioned, two California cities successfully did argue both historical value and religious freedom while Steubenville simply caved in.

Saying that the presence of a given religious symbol doesn't advance a religion may seem simple and apparent to you and me, but tell that to the Carter, Clinton and Obama appointments to the federal courts. Los Angeles, like Steubenville, simply caved in to leftist pressure without even considering attempting to defend the religious symbols. As a moral matter, that's cowardly. As a practical matter, the cost of the litigation has to be a major consideration.

Don't dismiss the historical argument quite so lightly. It's a matter of using the government meddlers' own rules against them. Many a questionably historical building has been preserved under harsh preservation laws. Even in the current atmosphere, historical preservation statutes are not taken lightly and regularly include old churches and monuments. One thing all good lawyers know is that if there is an historical argument and a religious freedom argument, argue both.

tryanmax said...

Hawk, Thanks for clearing that up. I was given the impression that the plaintiffs were arguing one way and the defenders were arguing another. But you are absolutely right, if the opposition is making one argument, counter it and come back with another one.

LawHawkRFD said...

tryanmax: If you haven't been through one of these legal circuses, it's hard to know which arguments have been used. Until recently, the historical preservation argument has had a bit more success, but in the successful cases, both that and the religious freedom argument have been used. "Minimal interference" with religion and "tangential religious symbology" are beginning to gain ground. The cross on the Steubenville Church (historically accurate) which was depicted in the City Seal was so small that I had to look twice even to see it. Talk about tangential.

Individualist said...

Lawhawk

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Exactly how does one twist those words into an ability to ban religious demonstrations or symbols being used. How does one use these words to ban prayer.

And the argument about public land.... nonsense......

All land even private land is public. Owenership of land is recorded by the state authority which grants the "right of ownership". The ability of the state to tax land derives from this law. This law comes from common law when land ownership were essentially grants by the King.

Since we can make the argument that all land is under the control of the government then the argument against a cross being erected on a public court yard can be likewise allotted to any land even a church. If this "meme" upon which they base there legal argument to twist these words were applied consistantly then all religion would have to be banned.

Furthermore I am getting extremely disgusted with the "you can't express your religion in public argument." This is only ever applied to Christianity but even then it is a FASCIST argument. Essentially what that person is saying is that they are religious bigots and hate Christianity and therefore have a negative reaction to seeing or hearing any religious observance no matter how small or insignificant. And somenow their Hatred and Bigotry must be respected and therefore people can't practice their religion except in secret.

I reject this argument.

LawHawkRFD said...

Indi: You must remember that there are two camps on the Constitution. There are those of us who believe the Constitution means what it says, and any deviation from the clear wording must be based on a compelling state interest, historical context, and natural law. Then there are the liberals who believe in a living Constitution and who interpret the Constitution in light of popular trends and what the Founders might have written if they were writing it today. How they reach their nonsensical conclusions about religion and the public forum would take a week to recount and is impossible to explain logically.

Private property is not public land by any historical or constitutional reasoning. The state can record or affirm title, but there is very little state land left in most states for the state to "grant" title. In fact, our Constitution was a major deviation from European theory in that it created and guaranteed the right of private property ownership. Your history is right, but your constitutional history/law is wrong. For that reason I have to reject the suggestion that there is a sound reason to argue that "we can make the argument that all land is under the control of the government." It simply isn't true, and the premise which follows it is therefore untrue as well.

The last big American land grant was the Oklahoma Land Rush. And even at that, the American theory was that federal lands are held as a trust for the American people, whereas the European theory was that all land was owned by the king/government to dispense at his/its pleasure (as well as take back). Historically, only America built in a provision for just compensation if the federal government took private land. That requirement was very early on extended to the states. Even if the government originally granted the land, it ceased forever to be public the moment title was passed.

On the other hand, your discussion of liberal fascism is right on the money.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Pagan gods are no threat to freedom from religion."

But, wouldn't that make LA a mythocracy? :^)

PAGAN = People Against Goodness And Normalcy.

Joel Farnham said...

Ben,

Don't tell me. Do they have goat leggings?

Joel Farnham said...

Ben,

I mean do tell me....wait a minute, maybe I don't want to know.

Aw, just tell me.

Su Wei said...

They can't control the future until they destroy the past.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Joel, how did you know? :^)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Su Wei, yes indeed. The courts that side with these atheist PAGANs are clearly composed of like-minded judges since there is no evidence that non-Christians have been oppressed or damaged in any way by these historical symbols (except in their own twisted minds).

LawHawkRFD said...

USSBen: I think Los Angeles itself is a myth.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: And deer antlers.

LawHawkRFD said...

Su Wei: I knew your cousin, Chop Su Wei.

LawHawkRFD said...

USSBen: Evidence? Court decisions based on evidence? Are you crazy?

Individualist said...

Lawhawk

I am wrong then about common law indicating that one is granted rights to the land and not ownership. Thanks for clarifying.

But they can tax property and if you don't pay taxes they can take it.

Furthermore liberals in some places are presuming to tell people they can't smoke in their honmes or on their front lawns.

By what authority do they do this.

I still reject the argument that personal displays of religion can be banned on someone's desk or that a largely Christian or Jewish or whatever Religion have you community can't have a display on a courtyard that is important to them.

All of this to me smacks of some small interest group harassing religious people and trying to stop them from being able to advertize or celebrate their releigious affilitiation. And all of this based on someone being insulting and rude by telling them that "religion" offends them.

Why does religion hold this special category. What if someone is offended at science because they did nto do well. Can they not ban science fairs. What if someone does not like baseball. Does the fact that baseball offends them mean that public parks can't be sued for little league games? It still strikes me as some sophistry someone is inventoing in order to dictate to people what is to be good and what is not good based solely on their bigotry and biases.

The whole argument angers me because it is people using the government to force their views on everyone esle in the name of Tolerance. It is Orwellian and it is wrong and reaqlly the concept of religion itself has nothing to do with the argument. You could make this arguemetn about any social institution or belief anyone has if you wanted.

LawHawkRFD said...

Indi: The power to tax is the power to destroy. And the tax power is where the state gets the right to confiscate real and personal property, not from "ownership" of the land. The Constitution allowed the feds and the states to tax almost anything except income, and that omission was "fixed" by the Sixteenth Amendment.

The power to outlaw smoking in one's own home or on one's own lawn is preposterous of course, but until the Supreme Court says otherwise, it's within the broad "police powers" of the state to protect public health and safety. Smoking is not a fundamental right and therefore is subject to much looser rules of what can be regulated and what can't.

Science and baseball are likewise not specifically protected by the Constitution, but religion is. So the argument is not about banning science and baseball from the public forum, it's about banning even historical religious symbols from the public forum. In the case of banning science or baseball, all the state would have to show is a reasonable basis for the ban. In the case of religion, the state must prove a compelling state interest. And yet the courts have upheld the bans on religious symbols almost as often as they have overturned them. That's a sign of lousy implementation of constitutional law and a degraded society, but it's also a reflection of the decay in American life today.

K said...

Perhaps someone should point out, that secularist fundamentalists are emulating those cosmopolitan folks, the Taliban - banning and destroying anything that doesn't jive with their dogma - and that "freedom from religion" IS a religion.

LawHawkRFD said...

K: In many ways, that is a very good comparison.

K said...

In case someone doesn't know, or has forgotten, the Taliban destroyed two ancient statues of Buddha over international outcry.

LINK

LawHawkRFD said...

K: And though I doubt it will ever happen, the Islamists in Egypt are bringing back the centuries-old idea of destroying the pyramids as pagan symbols.

Su Wei said...

Seriously? They'll blow ANYTHING up, won't they?

P.S.: Chop Su Wei is on my dad's side. We don't talk about that part of the family. :o)

LawHawkRFD said...

Su Wei: Sorry, didn't mean to open any skeleton closets. Of of the few things that might save the pyramids is the ineptitude of the Islamists. They're good at blowing up innocent civilians, but blowing up something as big as the pyramids would probably not only fail, but would likely send a large number of the explosives "experts" to paradise in the process.

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