Elsinore City Christian War Shrine Fails Legal Scrutiny
One of the most contentious issues MAAF covers is that of Christian and religious war memorials. MAAF supports religious freedom, religious memorials and grave markers for individuals, and the rights of private citizens on private land to fund and set up whatever memorials they like. However, it is impossible for our nation to be free and equal when government officials set aside land and/or funds to promote their personal religious beliefs. Our service as nontheists is marginalized by the implication that all military personnel are honored by Christian symbols. Federal District Court Judge Stephen V Wilson has ruled to block such a Christian shrine in the city of Lake Elsinore, California.
MAAF submitted a brief to the city council on this issue in November of 2012 after reports from members in the area. City Council members had proposed that an image of a soldier kneeling in front of a cross be placed on city land. When challenged, they appointed a special commission to ensure religious freedom. The commission decided that adding a Star of David would resolve the issue. MAAF and the American Humanist Association ignored the crude tactic and filed suit against the city. After a hearing last October and related litigation, The District Court judge has filed against the City and is finalizing the judgement. The City will have the opportunity to appeal the decision, but for now, the shrine may only be set up on any private property anywhere but not on government land.
MAAF spoke with David Kaloyanides, the California attorney who litigated on behalf of the American Humanist Association.
I’m a strong advocate against using taxpayer dollars for any religious purpose whatsoever and particularly for me I’m very concerned here in California how the very conservative smaller communities are instilling Christian belief into government and schools. I’m a federal criminal defense attorney, and I saw the Lake Elsinore issue as an opportunity get involved directly on those issues. I am also battling my public school board on behalf of my two sixth-grade children. The Christian conservative element within the country is so well funded and well versed in media that even these seemingly out-of-the-way cases can damage our nation by undermining our First and Fourteenth Amendment protections.
The Lake Elsinore case is just one instances of a nationwide epidemic of religious shrines masquerading as war memorials. The Christian Right tactics are to put up a cross or to find a cross previously posted on public land, try to get it declared a ‘war memorial’, and then, failing that, to try to have the government sell the land under the cross. In one case, private citizens posted a cross at Camp Pendleton and that abuse of access to federal property continues to be overlooked by military leaders. A cross in the Mojave desert was allowed by giving away one (1) acre of federal land in the midst of the 1.6 million acre Mojave Desert national park rather than simply moving the cross. Moreover, the cross is still a Christian shrine, not a war memorial and thus violates the law (PL 108-87; 117 Stat 1100) that directed the transfer.
The National Law Journal provided detailed reporting of the obvious religious intent and Christian Victimhood tactics of the City Council leaders:
The mayor pro tempore, for instance, declared: “I feel sorry for us that we as Christians cannot show the cross because of the First Amendment. Okay. It really is a shame that our society, to me, is leaning that way.” Such statements “sent a powerful message that those who considered the cross to be inappropriate were not welcomed, and that the cross was a religious symbol worth fighting for,” Wilson wrote.
Christian Nation advocates simply see the US as a Christian nation and wish for Christians to have special privileges for government prayer, monuments, and mottos. They wish to turn a blind eye to the diversity of belief in the US and they want to exploit our military to do it. They don’t just want the right to practice their religion, they want government officials, government money, and government land to promote their beliefs, and that is just not the American way.
Excerpt from MAAF letter, not to remove the memorial but simply to make the memorial fit to honor all troops equally.