Religious symbols in the public square
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 43-foot cross atop San Diego's Mt. Soledad is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. “Having considered its history, its religious and non-religious uses, its sectarian and secular features, the history of war memorials and dominance of the Cross — we conclude that the Memorial, presently configured and as a whole, primarily conveys a message of government endorsement of religion that violates” the constitutional provision of separation of church and state, Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in a 56-page opinion. Trunk v. City of San Diego, 629 F.3d 1099 (9th Cir. Cal. 2011). Los Angeles Times editorial
A highly visible cross on a San Diego mountaintop can stay as part of a federally owned war memorial, a federal judge ruled. "The court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily nonreligious messages of military service, death and sacrifice," wrote U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns in his decision filed Tuesday. Justice Sam Alito rebuts “desanctification” on page 166 of Religious Liberty in America. See press release.
“Santa Monica, where I live and serve a congregation, is less festive, bright and accepting this Christmas season. And given my city's current municipal policy — one that forbids the use of public land for any outward religious expression, even for something as non-threatening and temporary as a Nativity scene — I suspect it will remain that way for a long time. Sadly, we are all — Jew, Christian and, yes, atheist — poorer for it.” — Los Angeles Times, Dec. 11, 2012
The "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree has been restored at the Superior Court's Central Justice Center. Officials had the tree temporarily removed in response to a complaint. The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, discusses the Supreme Court's handling of holiday displays on public property.
“The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm,” according to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion of the Court in a 5-4 decision. Salazar v. Buono, 130 S. Ct. 1803 (U.S. 2010). See the justices' opinion here.
Justices consider whether the display of a cross in a national preserve is a violation of the 1st Amendment ban on establishment of religion. In response to an argument by an attorney the American Civil Liberties Union, Justice Antonin Scalia shot back: “I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that the cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion.” After the arguments, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called Scalia's comments "shocking" and "outrageous." The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, covers numerous disputes involving religious symbols on public property, and puts the issue in historical context. See press release.
At issue is an eight-foot-tall cross – honoring fallen soldiers – located in the Mojave National Preserve in California. The case will be the Roberts court's first chance to rule on separation of church and state. The American Civil Liberties Union objected to the cross, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the ACLU, declaring the cross an "impermissible governmental endorsement of religion." The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, covers numerous disputes involving religious symbols on public property, and puts the issue in historical context. See press release.
A long-running dispute over a cross in the Mojave National Preserve in Southern California may give the Supreme Court a chance to set a precedent. The case arose when a retired park service employee sued the park service with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging that the cross was an unconstitutional religious display on public land. Religious Liberty in America covers numerous ACLU disputes involving religious symbols on public property. (See the subsection, "Tearing down the idols" on page 35.) See press release.
A statue of Jesus overlooking the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana has caught the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is fighting for its removal.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit to stop the engraving of “In God We Trust” and the “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance in the new Capitol Visitor Center. The lawsuit follows Congressional action approving the inscriptions. “The Founders based the Constitution and our laws on religious faith and principles that clear the way for individual freedom,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “Our true motto, 'In God We Trust,' expresses this fact, and we cannot allow a whitewash of America's religious heritage.” See more updates on this story here.
A California man requested that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names change northern California's landmark Mt. Diablo to Mt. Yahweh, among other possibilities, because he said Diablo (Spanish for "devil") was "profane" and "derogatory." The board rejected his request. Another man sought to change the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of America. "That went absolutely nowhere," said Michael R. Fournier, a Census Bureau geographer on the board's domestic names committee in the Los Angeles Times. See more on religious symbols in the public square here.
The First Amendment does not require a Utah city to display a religious group's "Seven Aphorisms" next to a monument featuring the Ten Commandments in a public park, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously. "Although a park is a traditional public forum for speeches and other transitory expressive acts, the display of a permanent monument is not a forum of expression," said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. "Instead, the placement of a permanent monument in a public park is best viewed as a form of government speech." See press release. Editorial: Say No to Summum
A cross made out of steel from the World Trade Center was dedicated Sunday near where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground on Sept. 11, 2001. Religious Liberty in America explains how the Supreme Court deals with religious symbols on public property on pages 149-152. See press release.
For more than two centuries, the old mission cross perched on a hill above Ventura has been a highly visible beacon for travelers and pilgrims. In 2003, a local resident filed a lawsuit challenging the city's ownership of the symbol, saying it violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The city averted a lawsuit by selling a one-acre parcel surrounding the cross to a private group. Religious Liberty in America covers numerous disputes involving religious symbols on public property, and puts the issue in historical context. See press release.