Unconstitutional Christian Monuments Mar Veterans Day
photo courtesy LA Times Blog
A 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 Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed and that change provides an opportunity for gay veterans to return to the active duty ranks.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.