Dispatches from the Creation Wars

We’ve reached a new low in the battle over the Mt. Soledad cross, a giant cross on public property in a park in San Diego as part of a war memorial. The new rhetorical low is to pretend that those who object to the cross do not object to the fact that it is an exclusively Christian symbol, but to the fact that it’s a war memorial:

At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Liberty Legal attorney Hiram Sasser accused the ACLU of engaging in “a war against honor and valor.” He said it is “inconceivable in a time of war such as now that the ACLU and others would be attacking the memorials, the very symbols of honor and sacrifice of our national heritage.

“These symbols and these memorials serve as reminders to all of us of the great sacrifice and courage and valor of our veterans,” Sasser observed. The ACLU and its allies “have no respect, decency or shame,” he added.


That is pure demagoguery, folks, nothing more than an attempt to provoke a highly emotional and entirely non-rational response in the public. And it’s one big lie. I’m of the opinion that the Mt. Soledad cross is no big deal and not worth fighting over, but the fact remains that no one, including the ACLU and those who filed suit to have it taken down, objects to having a memorial to the sacrifice and courage of American soldiers.

No one even objects to having religious symbols on a memorial (the ACLU has fought for the right of soldiers to have religious symbols on their gravestones). The objection is to the only symbol being one that is exclusively Christian because they view that both as an endorsement of that religion and an affront to the non-Christian soldiers who were equally brave and made equal sacrifices for their country. Indeed, here’s one thing Sasser didn’t bother to say at the National Press Club because, had he said it, it would have revealed his demagoguery: Philip Paulson, the original plaintiff in the Mt. Soledad case (he died and was replaced by another plaintiff), was a veteran.

Every time he was referred to by those who opposed him, it was always as “atheist Philip Paulson.” They never referred to him as Vietnam Veteran Philip Paulson because that would undermine their ability to frame the issue as one of good god-fearing Americans vs anti-Christian and anti-military godless liberals. That dishonest framing doesn’t fly when you read what Paulson actually had to say about it:

“I fought in Vietnam and I thought I fought to maintain freedom and yet the cross savers in this city would have us believe all of the veterans’ sacrifices are in vain, that the Constitution is something to be spit on,” Mr. Paulson said. “The real message is equal treatment under the law, and religious neutrality.”

Sasser is lying when he says that the case is about refusing to honor veterans. And he knows he’s lying. He just doesn’t care.

Comments

  1. #1 apy
    May 29, 2007

    A friend gave this link to me today. The pure arrogance leaves a horrible taste in my mouth.

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/graham/314855_billy529.html

  2. #2 joe
    May 29, 2007

    Philip Paulson, the original plaintiff in the Mt. Soledad case (he died and was replaced by another plaintiff), was a veteran.

    Not only that, but one of the current plaintiffs in the case, since Paulson’s death, is the
    Jewish War Veterans of America.
    http://www.jwv.org

  3. #3 doctorgoo
    May 29, 2007

    apy… that horrible taste left by the arrogance is the taste of vomit.

    Luckily, I caught it all before I covered my monitor in it.

    What a sanctimonious son of a b*tch that guy is!

  4. #4 ctw
    May 29, 2007

    “they view that [] as an endorsement of that religion …”

    Now I’m even more confused. In the comments to the chaplain-hiring post I understood you to be suggesting that even if applicable, the endorsement test couldn’t be determinative because it had never been, uh, endorsed my a SCOTUS majority. Here you cite it. Could you elaborate a bit? Specifically, when confronted with an estab clause issue should one ignore endorsement and stick with Lemon? Try both? Punt?

    Thanks – Charles

  5. #5 Jason
    May 29, 2007

    Great post. Great insight.

    The issue here is that the monument was erected as the Mt. Soledad Easter Cross with no attempt to hide its purely Christian agenda. It was later that Paulson brought his observation that the cross on public land is unconstitutional — I say ‘observation’ rather than ‘complaint’ because the violation so obvious.

    Only after Paulson brought up such an obvious issue did Christians move to defend their symbol by posting veteran placards. It is abhorrent that they chose to exploit veterans for their purposes. Legion leadership shows its true colors as they exercise their power for purely sectarian purposes.

    The obvious solution has never changed — move the cross to private land. This would solve the problem and, I emphasize, have absolutely no effect on the plaques and value of the memorial. We could even improve the memorial by posting the statue of a soldier or some purely patriotic rather than purely religious symbol.

  6. #6 doctorgoo
    May 29, 2007

    Just imagine some private property on a hill overlooking some Biblebelt city. Imagine that it has a huge oversized Islamic symbol looking down over the city… Then surround it with plaques honoring all the Muslim soldiers who have served in the military…

    …I guarantee that all the fundamentalists would finally find it in their hearts to support Church/State separation! (well, at least for that split second, anyway…)

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    May 29, 2007

    ctw wrote:

    Now I’m even more confused. In the comments to the chaplain-hiring post I understood you to be suggesting that even if applicable, the endorsement test couldn’t be determinative because it had never been, uh, endorsed my a SCOTUS majority. Here you cite it. Could you elaborate a bit? Specifically, when confronted with an estab clause issue should one ignore endorsement and stick with Lemon? Try both? Punt?

    The answer is: it depends on how the members of the court are feeling that day. As Justice Scalia noted in his Lamb’s Chapel dissent, the Lemon test is only used when the court needs it to slay a dragon they believe needs to be slayed. It’s still controlling precedent, but it’s not used in all church/state cases. In cases involving chaplains, it would likely not come in to play at all because there are many cases that are more specific and on-point. The same is true of cases involving legislative prayers, for instance. But on cases involving religious symbols on public property, the court is more likely to make an endorsement inquiry, asking if a reasonable observer would view it as endorsing a particular religion. Thus, for example, cases like Lynch and Allegheny, which are nativity display cases, which in essence say “throw a few candy canes and reindeer around the place to water down the religious message and we’ll look the other way.” The various standards have become confusing enough that lower court judges will do as Judge Jones did in the Dover case, do both a Lemon test and an endorsement test analysis to make sure they’ve covered both bases.

  8. #8 386sx
    May 29, 2007

    Just imagine some private property on a hill overlooking some Biblebelt city. Imagine that it has a huge oversized Islamic symbol looking down over the city… Then surround it with plaques honoring all the Muslim soldiers who have served in the military…

    …I guarantee that all the fundamentalists would finally find it in their hearts to support Church/State separation! (well, at least for that split second, anyway…)

    Nice thought, but to the “Christian nation” people the Islamic symbol would be more of a religious symbol than a memorial because hey look it’s obviously an Islamic symbol. Plus this nation was founded on Christian fundamentalism, not the Islamic religion. Just ask George Washington. He prayed on his knees for like about anywhere from three to about oh a zillion hours every single day! And then there’s the commandment where their god has priority over all the other ones. I mean, it’s not like the fundamentalists haven’t already thought this one through.

  9. #9 Chet Lemon
    May 30, 2007

    Ed–

    That Paulson was a veteran really matters? OK, then it matters that the 2.7 million members of the American Legion are all veterans and oppose suits like the one he filed. Paulson’s SELF-selected primary public identity was that of an atheist. He himself marks his conversion 40 years before his death in 1966 during his 15 months in Vietnam. So it’s hardly a shock that anyone would describe Paulson in the way he proudly chose to describe himself.

    His veteran status does not excuse his attack on what he and everyone else knows is and always has been a veterans’ memorial. The cross at Mt. Soledad alone, for many years, WAS the memorial, so his attack on the cross there was an attack on what he knew to be a veterans’ memorial. To pretend that the suit was anything else is an attempt to lure an audience who may not be intimately familiar with the history of the memorial and the case into erroneous conclusions based on faulty information.

    I agree that the guy quoted does sound a little goofy, but there was a lot more coverage of this American Legion partnership with the Alliance Defense Fund and no one else associated with the project approached what you accurately describe as demagoguery. However, when you consider the crowd with whom Paulson cast his own lot, you must admit that there was plenty of nutter butter passed around the tables at which he dined.

    Shortly before Paulson’s death, he accepted insano-supremo Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Atheist in a Foxhole Award” (now I ask, would you consider this more of an atheist award or more a veteran’s award…). The co-prez of FFRF was quoted just last week as saying about vets memorials that include religious symbols: “I would not jump into the fray until we see what happens with these other cases [Mt. Soledad and Mojave Desert]…There isn’t a way to address all of them,” Gaylor told Cybercast News Service. “You have to take these violations one case at a time…”

    Sounds like Mr. Paulson has left his compatriots drooling for his legacy to include the ultimately successful opening shot in a sustained attack on veterans’ memorials whose sponsors (usually private groups closely connected to the group of troops being honored who commission monuments to be placed on public land with official blessing) had the unmitigated gall to include what in the Western world is the ultimate and universal symbol of sacrifice on monuments to those who sacrificed more than you or I probably ever will.

    Regarding another commenter’s fictional historical re-enactment of the story of Mt. Soledad — it was dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1954 as a memorial to those killed in the Korean war. The reason it was called the Easter Cross, was, well because it was dedicated on Easter. Kind of like 9/11 is called 9/11 because it happened on 9/11…like Black Monday is called Black Monday because it happened on Monday, like Newfoundland…etc.

    No one was ever confused about what the memorial represented until Paulson invented a controversy where one never existed.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    May 30, 2007

    Chet Lemon wrote:

    His veteran status does not excuse his attack on what he and everyone else knows is and always has been a veterans’ memorial. The cross at Mt. Soledad alone, for many years, WAS the memorial, so his attack on the cross there was an attack on what he knew to be a veterans’ memorial. To pretend that the suit was anything else is an attempt to lure an audience who may not be intimately familiar with the history of the memorial and the case into erroneous conclusions based on faulty information.

    This is completely irrelevant to the point of this post. The fact that the cross was put up as a memorial does not mean that Paulson’s attempt to remove that particular symbol used for the memorial was an attack on the memory of dead soldiers. Paulson was never opposed to having a war memorial, he was opposed to having a war memorial that was symbolic of only one religion when many of the soldiers who died in that war did not belong to that religion. He wants a more appropriate symbol for the war memorial, he doesn’t advocate not memorializing fallen soldiers. That is the lie of the article and it’s the lie you are perpetuating with this utterly illogical argument.

    Regarding another commenter’s fictional historical re-enactment of the story of Mt. Soledad — it was dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1954 as a memorial to those killed in the Korean war.

    Actually, from 1954 to 1994, there was not a single service held at the cross on Memorial Day. The only thing held there was Easter services.

    No one was ever confused about what the memorial represented until Paulson invented a controversy where one never existed.

    Paulson’s objection is not that the cross represents a memorial; his objection was that it only represents a portion of those who should be memorialized.

  11. #11 Sean
    May 30, 2007

    Chet is right. No one was confused about what the cross represented until the lawsuit was filed. Everyone was quite clear it was a Christian symbol. Who knew it was really a symbol honoring the American soldier?

    Nice mention about it being an exclusive Easter service site until after the lawsuit. The cross and environs also had zero mention of veterans onsite until six months after the lawsuit. Then suddenly it acquired a veteran honoring plaque. Funny that.

    One semirelated snippet is this old quote from Bush. It references his desire to maintain the cross in light of a seventy-five percent vote to keep the cross in government hands.

    Judicial activism should not stand in the way of the people…

    Yeahhhh. That’s great. Them there silly judges should really stop enforcing the Constitution if a majority of voters in a particular geographic area wants it. That would just be dandy. San Fran can safely wipe out the Second. Dallas can get rid of the pesky First. Heck, they can drop those pesky Articles Three and Six entirely.

  12. #12 ctw
    May 30, 2007

    “it depends on how the members of the court are feeling that day”

    Isn’t this a bit dismissive? Eg, it seems to me that part of the problem with applying any test to chaplains or other religious professionals is that their hiring is often if not always rather obviously unconstitutional in theory (eg, opening prayers for congress) but unassailable in practice for political reasons. Hence, some pragmatic fudging is necessary leading to inevitable inconsistency. My impression is that in most cases, Lemon and/or endorsement works tolerably well.

    Ie, “what a tangled web we weave …”

    -Charles