Camp Pendleton Cross Privileges Christianity; Marginalizes non-Christians
A monument to honor all Marines
I posted last week about religious memorials on veteran’s day. The Camp Pendleton cross (technically located in the Camp Horno area) was one of two focus items in an article that referred to a long list of Christian monuments defended using military/police service. MAAF spends the vast majority of its time fostering community and providing outreach to the military. In a case where federal officials allow to stand a prominent Christian cross as a representation of military service, atheists, humanists, and all non-Christians who have fought and died for our country are relegated to second-class citizenship.
On Nov 18th, Camp Pendleton officials recognized objections saying, ”The memorial cross activity … was conducted by private individuals acting solely in their personal capacities … The leadership is aware of the memorial cross emplacement and the activity is currently being reviewed by legal staff.”
MAAF has reached out to Camp Pendleton leadership with the following comments regarding resolution of this issue:
- The cross should be removed or covered until its legality can be determined.
- We do not see a legal and unbiased way of keeping this cross on federal land.
- Replacing the cross with an Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor, Flag, or Plaque would provide for a proper Marine Corps memorial and eliminate the sectarian bias. (Adding a flag and keeping the cross or adding other religious symbols would further entangle government and religion.)
- Investigate wrong-doing in command-directed pilgrimages and sectarian prayers at the shrine.
Jay Sekulow of the Christian ACLJ claims the cross is nothing more than a secular historical marker
This issue has launched quite a firestorm, so I do want to add some clarifications and respond to some of the arguments I’ve heard.
- Some have said this is no big deal. They generally say so in all caps and follow up with some sort of threat indicating that it is, in fact, a big deal.
- Some have argued that the “Marine Corps” should keep it’s monument. They generally make this argument right before or after insisting that these individuals were acting is private citizens so it should not be construed as any government endorsement.
- If this was put up by private citizens, why did they opt not to use their private land? Why are private officials erecting permanent structures on federal land?
- Some point out that the cross was put up in 2003 originally. The implication is that being wrong for eight years is better than being wrong for a week.
- Many (probably most commenters) ask why atheists are so “offended” or that most Marines like the monument. This has nothing to do with people’s feelings or a popularity contest about the monument. MAAF represents thousands of military personnel, including Marines at Camp Pendleton, and our rights matter. The government must not show bias towards any religious belief.
- Some point out that whole units have been marched up to the cross by their commanders. Two videos show a long hike to install the cross and one unit commander inviting his Sergeant Major to give a Christian prayer to a mandatory formation under this cross. Marine commanders have forced their troops into a pilgrimage to a Christian cross?!? This deserves a separate investigation by itself.
- Jay Sekulow at the Christian ACLJ says the cross isn’t Christian. A billion Christians worship the cross as a symbol of their most deeply-held beliefs, so I’ll let them object to the ACLJ. Dave Niose in Psychology Today questions the casting of the cross as a secular icon. Attorney Randall Hamud San Diego more accurately lays out the legal challenges to the federal installation of a religious symbol. If this was solely about honoring fallen brothers, why confuse the message with an obvious and unmistakable religious symbol?
- The example of cemetery crosses is also often brought up. These cases are entirely different as they represent the wishes of the individual buried in that plot. MAAF absolutely supports religious emblems on federal cemetery grave markers.
- Other religious monuments such as the Chaplain Memorial at Arlington are proper monuments to the contributions to the US by explicitly religious personnel. They are properly labelled as religious, approved by the command, and placed in such a manner as to avoid the appearance of bias. This also applies to various places of worship that are occasionally customized for religious purposes, such as Mosques, Catholic Chapels, or Wiccan circles to augment the existing general-use chapels.
- Other memorials are biased toward Christianity and ought properly to be removed to private property. The Camp Pendleton cross is just one of many. The Mt Soledad Cross, the Mojave Desert Cross, the Montana Jesus statue, and the Utah state trooper crosses are all examples. The Argonne Cross at Arlington, a 1921 monument erected “In memory of our men in France” also excludes all non-Christians. This cross now memorializes a time when our military had nearly no recognition for anyone not Christian and was segregated by both race and gender. We’ve come a long way forward since then.
- There are also examples of non-military religious monuments on federal land, such as the location of the first baptism in California, which rests on what is now Camp Pendleton. This sad memorial of a Catholic Priest conscripting two young Native American girls into his faith helps us to remember the means European settlers used to take control of the New World. This is a good example of an authorized historical landmark with religious significance, properly labeled and approved.
- I leave it to Christians, military leaders, and police authorities to respond appropriately to the long list of insults and threats directed toward MAAF and MAAF members.
MAAF, which represents Marines, Marines at Camp Pendleton, and combat veterans who have lost comrades, recognizes and respects the service of all Marines, especially those who have paid the ultimate price, including those who posted and are referenced by this cross. It is because of this respect that we stand up to oppose the placement of a Christian symbol that co-opts patriotism and valor to promote personal religious perspectives. In order to ensure equal rights for all service members, including atheists and humanists, we must oppose the “Christian military” message that this cross represents. Those individuals who took it upon themselves to post this cross have imposed their beliefs on others. Those who ignored this violation, or worse, forced their units into mandatory prayer at this cross, should bear responsibility for the hurt feelings and offense that Christian Marines now feel as this cross is challenged. This would not have happened had a Flag, plaque, or non-sectarian statue been placed. This would not have happened had those Marines chosen to place their memorial on private land rather than federal land. MAAF hopes that those Marines who placed this cross can prevent this bad will by stepping forward to propose a non-sectarian memorial to honor all Marines.