The Supreme Court revealed to the world on Wednesday, April 28, 2010, an extraordinary religious extremism that belies any quaint notion of judicial restraint. If the obvious ever needed to be emphasized, the call to replace Justice John Paul Stevens with a liberal jurist is now more critical than ever.
The case in question is a bit convoluted, but the details are important. A seven-foot cross was erected on Sunrise Rock in 1934 on government-owned land in the Mojave Desert to honor fallen veterans. The metal display has been repaired and replaced many times since, with the latest renovation completed in 1998. A former National Park Service employee, Frank Buono, sued to have the cross removed as an offensive symbol to all non-Christian soldiers and their surviving families. In response to this challenge, Congress offered yet another violation of the Establishment Clause by using sleazy slight-of-hand to circumvent the Constitution. Congress sold a little plot of land on which the cross rests to a veterans group, thereby claiming that the cross no longer stood on federal property. But the transparent ploy of gutting the Constitution by creating an island of private property surrounding by a National Park did not fool the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled the cross had to come down. Our largely Catholic Supreme Court then decided to hear the case.
Justice Antonin Scalia explained that he agreed to put this case on the court docket because he was simply baffled that a Christian cross could be construed to represent Christianity. He was puzzled that a cross was not broadly representative of Islam, Judaism or no religion at all. Scalia went on to proclaim that a cross self-evidently represented all war dead, not just fallen Christians. To demonstrate how terribly twisted Scalia's thoughts are in reaching this peculiar conclusion, he earlier asked the ridiculous question, "What would you have them erect? Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"
Note that Scalia did not offer the obvious and imminently more reasonable alternative of erecting the Crescent of Islam in place of the cross. He only suggested the absurd notion of a chimera. He is so utterly blinded by his faith that he could not imagine that anything other than a cross could serve to honor our soldiers. But the assertion that the cross represents everybody is extraordinarily bizarre, defying even the most basic elements of decency. Would a Jew opt to carve a cross on his grave? Would a Muslim? How about Justice Kennedy; would he himself allow a Star of David on his grave? If a Christian would not select a Star of David then why on earth would a Jew choose a cross? Yet that is exactly what the Court proposes. The court is fundamentally wrong. How outrageously and horribly offensive to every non-Christian to be informed by a bunch of old Catholic men that the cross is a "universal symbol" representative of all religions. No ruling from the Court in modern history has been more radical, or more poorly argue.
The trend toward religious extremism was evident even before the case was heard, so the outcome was preordained. Therefore, when finally decided in a 5-4 vote by the deeply divided Supremes, the case as expected was sent back to the lower court for new hearings. The logic offered by the ultimate court in the land is so contorted my body hurts just reading the nonsense. Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his final ruling that those "who erected the cross intended simply to honor our nation's fallen soldiers." Kennedy then dug deeper with the following breathtaking leap into the ridiculous: "Although certainly a Christian symbol, the cross was not emplaced on Sunrise Rock to promote a Christian message." Really? If Kennedy's logic is sound, then the following statement would also be true: "Although certainly a Muslim symbol, the Crescent Moon and Star was not emplaced on Sunrise Rock to promote an Islamic message." If the Jewish symbol had been erected on the mountain would Kennedy claim the action was not done to promote a Jewish message? The answer is obvious. Kennedy's argument implies absurdly that a religion's symbol does not uniquely represent that religion, so that any one symbol can substitute equally for another. But we know that he really means that only the Christian cross can be universally representative while every other religious symbol cannot. Can anybody honestly imagine that the ruling would be the same if the cross were in fact instead an Islamic Crescent? Of course not, because these symbols would not represent the faith of all the fallen soldiers. As Justice Stevens wrote, "I certainly agree that the nation should memorialize the service of those who fought and died in WWI, but it cannot lawfully do so by continued endorsement of a starkly sectarian message."
This decision, and more importantly the rationale provided to justify the ruling, is a radical departure from traditional judicial thought. What the conservative justices did here makes each the worst kind of "activist judge" they so loudly disdain, reinterpreting the Constitution to conform to a narrow and radical religious view self-evidently in contradiction to the intent of our founding fathers. Scalia and his brethren are brazenly choosing one religion over all others in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: "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."
In addition to ignoring our Bill of Rights, the Justices have abandoned any pretense of logic to support their faith. The three other who ruled with Kennedy and Scalia are Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. All five are Catholic. Three of the four dissenting voices are non-Catholic.
Those four dissenting justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and John Paul Stevens. The latter's reasoned plea for sanity in calling the Christian cross a "starkly sectarian message" underlies the urgent necessity of replacing him with a thoughtful liberal untainted by the curse of religious zealotry.
We have few remaining opportunities to stop the march of conservative activist judges who are shredding the Constitution to implement their vision of a Christian nation. They and their rightist allies on the Hill are destroying the very institutions they so proudly claim to be defending by working to weaken or destroy the separation of church and state. If not stopped, our country will soon resemble nothing like the shining example envisioned by our founders. For in spite of these increasingly popular efforts to claim the nation was founded on Christian principles, the original manuscripts prove that idea blatantly and demonstrably false. Our forefathers were unambiguous in their efforts to exclude god from government. That cannot be disputed based on their own words. For the first 180 years of existence, the United States never included god in its motto, on its currency, or in any document creating the republic. We were born a secular nation and remained one for nearly two centuries. Until Roberts, Alito and Scalia hijacked our highest court in the name of religious intolerance.
Forcing a dead soldier's family to accept the symbol of one religion over another is establishing religion by any definition. We are better than that. Or should be: no matter the outcome of the new hearings in the Sunrise Rock case, we know that our government, when opportunity came, clearly chose Christianity to the exclusion of all other faiths, with not even a nod to checks and balances. We continue to edge ever closer to the status of a banana republic theocracy. Shame on us.