Respecting the cross and the law
This post first appeared on the Washington Post's On Faith section and is republished with permission.
The religious community was deeply split over the recent Supreme Court decision (Salazar v. Buono)
about a cross in the Mojave Desert honoring our nation's war dead.
Regardless of differing views, however, we ought to be unanimous in
denouncing the theft of that cross this week.
Particularly distressing are the anonymous communications,
allegedly from the thief, indicating that this was done out of
opposition to the Supreme Court's decision and out of respect for our
Constitution and non-Christian war dead. As a Jew and an avid
pro-separationist precisely because I believe it enhances religious
freedom, autonomy, tolerance and respect, I unequivocally condemn this
action, for this theft desecrates our rule of law as much as it does
this religious symbol.
I was among those who were profoundly alarmed by the decision. The
choice of a sectarian religious symbol as a national symbol seemed
self-evidently to violate the founders' concern in banning any law even
"respecting an establishment of religion." The divisive potential of
the decision was evident during oral argument when Justice Scalia
condescendingly deemed "outrageous" a Jewish lawyer's suggestion that
the cross is a symbol not of the general war dead but simply of the
Christian war dead, to which minority communities, including Jews,
could not connect.
The last thing America needs, with its distinctive religious
diversity of 2,000 faith groups, denominations, and sects, is
competition over whose religious symbols will or will not be adopted as
symbols of patriotism, as memorials or as other government-sponsored
messages. Former Justice O'Connor's compelling rationale in putting
forth her Endorsement Test for the Establishment Clause speaks directly
to our concerns: No act of government ought to convey endorsement of a
religious message to a reasonable observer, she argued, nor should the
government's actions make non-adherents or those of any particular
faith feel like outsiders in the political community.
But, our High Court has spoken, and its decision is the law of the land.
The theft of this cross is a crime (and, depending on the motive,
perhaps a hate crime) against the religious communities that the symbol
represents, against our nation's commitment to the rule of law and, in
light of the Court's determination that the cross is an appropriate
symbol to honor our war dead, its theft is a crime against the memory
of our veterans as well. If a prank, I urge the perpetrators return it
immediately; if an intentional act against the cross and what it
represents, I implore law enforcement to act decisively. Our respect
for the rule of law and for our nation's religious tolerance and
respect demands no less.