Unconstitutional Christian Monuments Mar Veterans Day

photo courtesy LA Times Blog

large permanent Christian cross went up on public land* at Camp Pendleton.  A US Congressman is pressuring the Forest Service to provide a special use shrine to Jesus to the Catholic Knights of Columbus.  Both are being defended as military memorials.  These are two of the newest examples of stolen valor.  No cross or statue of Jesus represents military service.  Military service is being exploited to secure unconstitutional Christian privilege.

On 11/11/11, Veterans were honored around the country.  Civilians joined recent combat veterans joined long-time veterans of previous wars.  This Veterans Day comes in the wake of what seems to be the end of Iraqi occupation this year, continuing drawdowns in Afghanistan, major blows to Al Qaeda senior leadership, hostilities in Libya, and deployment of Special Operations Troops to Uganda.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed and that change provides an opportunity for gay veterans to return to the active duty ranks.  The Department of Veterans Affairs has instituted a major initiative to end veteran homelessness.  This Veterans Day was special for more reasons than the numerology of the date.  But will all this change, we still have continuing exploitation of military service and veterans to promote Christian privilege.  This sends a message of exclusion rather than inclusion on this secular holiday.

Update 11/17 from local coverage of MAAF efforts:  Camp Pendleton officials respond saying, “The memorial cross activity … was conducted by private individuals acting solely in their personal capacities,” the statement from the base public affairs office said. “As such, they were not acting in any official position or capacity that may be construed as an endorsement of a specific religious denomination by the Department of Defense or the U.S. Marine Corps.”  A Camp Pendleton spokeswoman went on to say that the issue raised by Torpy and his group is being “further looked into by legal authorities on the base.”

The LA Times blog reports that four Marines trudged up a hill at Camp Pendleton, California, a major Marine installation, to post a 13-foot-tall Christian cross.  The Marines performed this task to, “to honor the memory of four Marine comrades killed in Iraq and to show respect for all military personnel sent to foreign lands.”  I can speak for atheists certainly and for non-Christians in general when I say this is the opposite of respect for us.  The oath military personnel take to “support and defend the Constitution” is disrespected by oversized monuments to personal, exclusive religious beliefs posted on federal land.*

These Marines were honoring their fallen comrades, of that I am certain.  And their desire to erect a large cross to honor their memory is perfectly acceptable, so long as it is on church land or their own property, not on federal land.  The LA Times reports the new cross apparently replaces a prior cross that was posted in 2003 and burned down.  I would like nothing more than to praise the dedication and comradeship of these Marines, but military service is not a free pass for Christian privilege.

Congressman Rehberg rejecting his Constitutional responsibilities

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) had secured promises from the US Forest Service to end special permits for a shrine to Jesus on federal land.  FFRF reports U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont, has attempted to defend the shrine as a memorial to WWII soldiers and a historical monument.  In a nonsensical misunderstanding of church-state separation, he argues that a singular, unadorned statue of Jesus is simply a “war memorial with religious themes” that this statue on federal land is no different than a personal religious emblem on a personal headstone at Arlington.  Neither of these arguments makes sense from Constitutional or even religious grounds.  The federal government is not in the business of providing space for personal religious expression, and veterans should not be exploited to do so.

Contact the US Forest service using the FFRF text or your own to ensure they know that this is no war memorial and that federal land is not a Catholic Church.

This is a continuing trend of religious monuments being confused with general-use, secular war memorials.  A large cross in the Mojave desert is a second example of veterans being used to defend a Christian monument.  Veterans organizations used their influence to defend Christianity while disparaging other beliefs.  Devolopments continue in a similar case defending Utah Highway Crosses with Patrolmen’s valor.

* The LA Times article stated the cross was on Camp Pendleton, but did not explicitly state whether the cross was on federal land or whether it was sanctioned by the command.  Camp Pendleton media contacts could not immediately confirm these details.

  • John Doe Smith

    If this Jesus guy so badly needs to raise his wood pole in the shape of a torture device from the Roman Empire… can’t he do it himself?

  • Bill Calhoun

    I retired from the Marine Corps 35 years ago, and I have a good memory of my career and duty stations.

    Never, in my 20 years, was I ever ordered to believe a certain way or forced to go to religious events. Apparently today’s Marine Corps has allowed an atmosphere that allows only Christianity to be its mainstay religion.

    Number one, I never ran across any Marine who told me that they’d joined the Corps to pursue their religious beliefs.

    Number two, the Constitution of the U.S., which all Marines have sworn to defend, provides for the separation of church and state.

    That means no religious “memorial” symbols on goverment land except on base church properties; that means no commander can allow a climate of religiosity to exist in the military environment, no matter what religion is favored.

    That means that any commander who does allow such symbols or behavior to exist in their command should be subject to censure, or worse, by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

    Private prayer or going to religious services on base is certainly OK. That’s every Marine’s right.

    But forcing nonbelievers or those of another faith to participate in Christian religious services and/or behavior is flat wrong and should not be tolerated.

    Leave religion to chaplains. It is not and should never be a command perogative.

    Bill Calhoun
    GySgt USMC (Ret)

    • Golf25doc

      Gunny you should do more research. The Constitution provides that the government will not impose any particular religion. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion OR impeding the free exercise of religion. It does not provide that religion or religious symbols are not allowed. As far as your comments to “no religious memorial symbols on government land” We DO allow this. What else explains Veterans and National cemetery’s? I know the ones who put this monument up and knew the original crew that did it. This is a memorial to them not a statement of one religion over another. No one forced anything on anyone here.

      HMC(FMF)/Ret

      • Andrew Bufalo

        Chief, you were doing okay until you said, “not a statement of one religion over another.” It was a cross, which only represents Christianity… and all of the fallen are certainly not Christians. As far as “explaining Veterans and National cemeteries” goes, each individual headstone has the symbol which is appropriate for that particular individual, rather than a cross for all. If you check with the VA, there is a list of authorized symbols. How would you like it if they put a Muslim Crescent on your headstone against your will, and in spite of your beliefs? Probably the way I feel about a cross on our base, which doesn’t reflect all of our beliefs. The place for military religion is in the chapel, and I will never understand what believers feel is gained by getting in other people’s face with their particular “brand” of religion. Believe what you want, but do it in church, or in private.

        • Golf25doc

          Andrew, these guys used a cross because it was a cross that was there originally. It could have just as easily been something else, it just wasn’t. I think you guys are way over thinking this. It’s a tribute to lost friends, nothing more.

      • Bill Calhoun

        Chief – You know as well as I do that the U.S. Supreme Court has often ruled on this issue and they have come down solidly against religious symbols on government property.

        Using the national cemeteries as an example to prove me wrong is splitting hairs, of course they are an exception. Don’t nickle-dime a serious issue.

        The intent of the Marines who put up the cross is not the issue either, I appreciate their need to honor their fallen comrades. But if you allow one, you have to allow others and soon crosses could be all over military housing areas, military bases, and even painted on ships. If that condition would not express favoritism of one religion over another, I don’t know what would.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

        It is important to recognize that MAAF does not and will not object to religious emblems on burial markers. The cemetery itself may be federal land but the grave site is clearly associated with an individual, thus eliminating any possible confusion about federal government support. This is also the case (for the most part) in retirement or promotion ceremonies where the honoree requests a religious component. In this case also, the federal government properly supports religious freedom when it facilitates an individuals preference in a ceremony that primarily honors an individual. (And we atheists in the crowd will honor that request just as a Christian would honor a request for an Islamic prayer in a ceremony for a retiring Muslim.)
        These issues are all fundamentally different than a few individuals acting alone to put in a rather large personal expression of their faith.

        • Frontliner233

          As a fellow atheist who served with all the Marines this monument was RE-erected in the name of ( emphasis on the RE due to the fact that.th thatis memorial is actually over 8 years old) I feel that this is in actuallity not simply the actions of few but the wants of thousands. As I said I am an atheist and have been the entire 9 years of my service and I not only suepport the memmorial, but participated the erection of the original cross. To those of of from the.the first Marine regiment who lost friends in combat the site is appropriate, and the fact that it’s a 45 minute hike from civilization goes to show that without dedication to the remberance of our fallen brothers you sensationalists would never even know about it without the aid of the LA times. Shame on you Torpy, get a life.Having the freedom to make noise dosen’t mean you should.

        • Steve Cox

          I have a hard time understanding why you spend so much time trying to get rid of a God you don’t believe in. Like it or not you are expressing a religion in not believing.God is present, if He wasn’t, there would be no reason to try and exclude Him. There is a reason I don’t ask the White House to stop Easter egg hunts, because I know there is no Easter Bunny.

    • Arizona Jones

      This cross in no way is “forcing nonbelievers or those of another faith to participate in Christian religious services”. And in no way is it seen by others as a “command perogative”. In fact from what I understand is others are free to put up any type of memorial that would suit their own belief. Problem is some peoples only belief is a negative reaction to other people. Instead of getting along with and tolerance.

    • Steve Cox U.S.A.F.

      Bill, please excuse the correction, but the Constitution of the U.S., which all Marines have sworn to defend, DOES NOT provide for the separation of church and state.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

        Sure it does. Separation of Church and State is right between the Air Force and the Right to Privacy. Or are those things not in your Constitution either?

    • Jrkidd3

      Bill, you would think that a man who spent enough years in the Marine Corps to have retired, who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, would have, somewhere along the line, taken the time to read and familiarize himself with that constitution. The Constitution ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT provide for separation of church and state. It was the will of the founding fathers, who had not only beaten off the oppression of the English King, but also of the Anglican church, that no one church or denomination should be set up as authorative over the newly formed United States. However, it was also the will and intent of the founders that the the principles of the Christian religion not only be taught in our public schools, but that no man who denied Christianity should serve in any political office, nor should any atheist serve on a jury because they held that if a man did not believe in a future state of rewards and punishment, he had no binding reason to be honest. When you claim that the Constitution provides for the separation of church and state, you are denying the very moral framework around which the founders wrote the constitution, you are denying our heritage, you are denying the faith of our fathers who, relying upon the help of Divine Providence (See the Declaration of Independence) and worse of all, you are spreading an falsehood about that constitution you swore to defend.

  • Andrew Bufalo

    As a retired Master Sergeant of Marines I respect and applaud the desire to honor fallen comrades aboard Camp Pendleton, but I must question the manner in which it was done – well intentioned as it may have been.

    If I, as an atheist, had fallen in combat, do these Marines think such a tribute would have been appropriate? I can tell you right now it would not have been, but I guarantee many would “asume” it was because Christians are in the majority right now. Like it or not the Corps has many Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Atheists, etc, and to erect such a monument minimizes their contributions to the defense of this country at best, and dishonors it at worst. I would also ask how it would be viewed if Marines representing those religions had trudged up that hill with, instead of a cross, a Star of David, or even a Star and Crescent? Not to well, I would imagine.

    If you really want to honor ALL of our fallen brothers, the only way to do it is by incorporationg symbols which we ALL respect and believe in such as the Flag, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, and the Constitution. We are ALL Americans. We are ALL Marines. We are NOT all Christians. It is time to understand and respect that.

    Semper Fi,
    Andy Bufalo
    MSgt USMC (Ret)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1206425725 Mohawk Alaka

      It is a symbol of sacrifice. People were crucified long before Christ was, and many of them martyrs for different causes, many still were nothing more than criminals. The cross was adopted as a symbol of faith by a handful of religions, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a religious symbol, anymore than liking or displaying rainbows makes you homosexual. The simple fact is that people protesting ANY memorial, whether it be a rock, a cross, a building, a plaque is basically the same as protesting at a fallen brother’s funeral. Get over yourselves and your own selfish motivations and just recognize the memorial for what it is.

      oorah,

      Michael Seraphim
      CPL USMC

      • Anonymous

        I forgot that Semper Fidelis overrides all other considerations. The memorial is just that and no more. Whatever the symbol of a memorial, it still honors those who have fallen.
        I salute our fallen heroes. Semper Fi!

        Bill Calhoun
        GySgt USMC (Ret)

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  • TGP
    • Steve Cox U.S.A.F (Ret)

      On a note to all, if anyone of you think we have the greatest military in the world your in for a surprise the first time we go into it without God. Goliath was the super power and he was taken out by a kid with a rock, because God was with him. It is reading these pages that I will be writing the Sec of Defense and notify him my two sons names can be removed from selective service for religious reasons, they will not fight for a country that turns it’s back on God.

  • Nelson Dowdrick

    Why should I be forced to put up with your crap and you don’t what to see or hear mine. Sempe-Fi
    Nelson Dowdrick USMC and in GOD I trust.

  • Frontliner233

    Ladies and gentlemen, I am a fellow atheist and have been for over ten years. I joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and continue to serve today. Never in that time have I been asked to change my beliefs or encouraged to be silent about my religious opinions. There has been obvious religious debates but my brothers and sisters in arms have always respected my views and my rights to religious freedom. As a veteran of operations vigilant resolve, steel curtan and iron hammer I am calling on my fellow atheists no to return that support and support the monument on camp pendleton. I for one have always understood the power of faith and knowing what our bretheren put on the line every day have never been offended by unit benidiction or prayor. To me the minority being myself and the small group of other atheists having to “suffer” through two minutes, of prayer so that other Marines, my brothers can sacrifice their lives with peace of mind has never offended me. Maybe I’m just not a sensationalist or someone looking for attention but I personally have been humbled by the likes of the battle for fallujah and oparation steel curtain the likes of r which I was honered enough to serve with all four of the fallen Marines the cross was recently re-erected in the name of. I will say that the opposition to that monument by this organization disgusts me and takes away from our brotherhood and all that we stand for. I suggest instead that we devise an equal memorial for non religious seevice members to be erected near the camp horno sight. I think we all knlw that the symbol chosen to represent the current memmorial.may jave been ill chosen but that when ot comes to the.vrotherhood Md understa.ding of military servoce it represents more than just one secular faith. As a non traditional group of our own faiths, who have sen

    • Frontliner233

      who have the indifference of religion in the military I suggest we practice what we preach and practice tolerance of other faiths instead of degrading and disrespecting a memorial to our fellow brothers and sisters in arms that paid the ultimate sacrafice for our right to do so. Just because we can doean’t ways mean we should. – SSgt. Anthony P. Tisbo U.S.M.C.

    • Arizona Jones

      I am not an atheist but Frontliner233 is one I would be able to listen to. His perspective is one of tolerance and understanding and respect.

  • Arizona Jones

    The United States does give the right to “not be offended”. No where in the constitution is that a protected right. You people should get a life. The cross for starters was out in the middle of no where. From what I understand that no complaint has come from anyone stationed at the base. As far as the constitution. The Constitution provides that the government will not impose any particular religion ( like a church of England ). But the Constitution in fact protects religious expression. In fact religious symbols until recent history have always been alowed in public domain and not just at cemetaries as some in this discusion would suggest. Just go to Washington and you will see religious symbols in many of our most venerated buildings. Why? Because they knew the intent of the constitution was NOT freedom FROM religion but freedom “OF” religion. Why do you think they thought it was alright to hire a Congressional Chaplin and to start sessions of congress with prayer. Do you think they thought they were going against the very Constitution they had written? Of course not!
    Now about this cross. This cross is really not a “religious” symbol anyway. It is a symbol of honor of the sacrifice. Givings one life for others. But you are so anti Christian that you can’t see it. And you can’t see how offensive your behavior is to the widows of these fallen soldiers.
    By the way from what I understand, no one is stopping any Atheist from erecting what ever type of memorial they would want. This is not exclusion. Atheists have just not chosen to.

    • JasonTorpy

      Agreed – there is no right not to be offended. We’re not offended.
      Wrong – complaints are coming from those on base. Our members are on base. Some are assigned there but currently deployed to Afghanistan. Many have been assigned in the past. None of this matters of course since this is about proper use of government proper, not whether or not anyone is offended.
      Wrong – the cross is Christian. It can’t be confused for anything else. And that’s why the Christians who posted it chose that symbol. You are so pro-Christian you want any excuse to put your religion into government, even if it means saying the cross isn’t Christian.
      Maybe atheists could post a big Happy Humanist, but we don’t because we know that would be an improper use of federal land. Two wrongs don’t make a right. (60 months or 10 years or 50 years doesn’t make it right either).

      • Pete

        You claim the “Christians who posted it chose that symbol” but there is an Athiest here who said he helped put it up. Perhaps the 4 men who sacrificed were christians and this is a fitting symbol for them, mush like if it were on thier gravestone. By all of the stories and articles on this site it is clear that you ARE in fact offened. You are offened that you are not getting your way and that the military does not kowtow to meet your biased and unreasonable demands. Why do you care if there is a cross to memorialize somone, an athiest looks at it as 2 crossed sticks, not a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus since you dont believe he is the son of God. What about crosses on top of chapels? they are on federal lands, and bought and paid for by federal funds. You want to be a rabble rouser and you want to be “different” and “stand up for something”. I know how it is wanting attention and being full of angst at my own life, I used to be the same way when I was an Athiest.

      • Jrkidd3

        We have been taught that it was the intention of our founding fathers that religion be kept completely and totally out of government and that the first amendment guarantees ‘freedom from religion’. This has become an accepted “fact” to many, but it is absolutely false. Most atheist I know pride themselves on having an open mind. Do you? These audio files, 5 of them, are very educational, if you can get past the idea that they are done by a church of Christ preacher and give them an honest listen, you can get yourself a real education, filled with real facts about your American Heritage. http://www.thebible1.net/audio/silencingofgod/

  • Jrkidd3

    ” I can speak for atheists certainly and for non-Christians in general when I say this is the opposite of respect for us.” …. That’s absurd. It has nothing to do with you. When those marines put up the cross(s) I’d be willing to bet a years paycheck that you never even crossed their minds. The only reason this is an issue is that you chose to make it one. There are all kinds of things going on in the world that are not in agreement with your personal views. What’s next? You guys going to get together and sew Walden Books for selling Bibles? I mean, evidently, Walden Books has deliberately hatched a plan to exclude you from visiting their stores and walking in pride and honor of yourselves. Atheist activist are just another group of people using twisted interpretations of the law, shaping public opinion with ‘in your face’ attack, effrontery and deliberate intimidation along with whining, crying and complaining that others “exclude” you. But the truth is it would be ok to be feminist if the feminist activists didn’t have such a belligerent attitude towards any one who insists on being a man. It would be ok to be homosexual if the homosexual activist didn’t have such a belligerent attitude towards any one who will not embrace and celebrate their personal lifestyle choice. And there are many, fine, decent atheist in the country whose conduct and respect for others very often, in virtue, exceeds that of many who call themselves Christians. So there is nothing wrong with being an atheist. But the belligerent, ‘in your face’ and ‘we will silence you’ attitude of atheist activist just makes you nothing more than a high school punk bully who grew up and never got over the thrill of bullying around other people, who never gave you a thought while they went about the business of being themselves. A thing you evidently cannot or just will not tolerate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000782331475 Michael Bonnett

    Why don’t you people get a grip on reality. It is obvious what your aim is and it’s not going to happen…. By the way I went over your “Atheists in Foxholes” list. At first glace it might fool someone who has never served. To anyone who has served in a ground combat unit it is rather amusing. Perhaps you should remove the list to save yourself embarrassment.

  • Christian Childs

    How do people that believe in nothing get offended by everything? This is the equivalent of a vegan getting mad they serve steak in the same restaurant.

    • http://militaryatheists.org Jason Torpy

      No one is ‘offended’. Don’t try to brush aside the real discrimination, nepositsm, and Constitutional violations that these crosses represent. And your own claim that atheists believe in nothing shows your own ignorance.