Military Atheist Calls for Removal of Arlington Cross

After being repeatedly called out for decrying one cross and not others, atheist and former Army Captain Jason Torpy, of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, finally addressed the “controversial” issue of Arlington National Cemetery:

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 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…

In deciding to include the Argonne Cross with others “to be removed,” this initially seems like an opportunity to applaud Torpy’s intellectual consistency in going where even the ACLU has feared to tread.  In 2009, the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg said

given the range of religious symbols in the cemetery, he doesn’t think “anyone would come in and then see a cross like the Argonne Cross and think, ‘Well, the government is favoring Christianity’ — because there are so many other religious symbols there.”

However, in Torpy’s very next paragraph, he creates an illogical maze. Just yesterday this site was the first to point out Torpy hadn’t complained of the other cross aboard Camp Pendleton, raised to commemorate the Catholic conversion of local Native Americans.  He chose to respond:

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.

Wait for it:

This is a good example of an authorized historical landmark with religious significance, properly labeled and approved. [emphasis added]

What is the context in which Torpy criticizes one cross on federal land and supports another?  It’s actually difficult to say, because his logic is inconsistent.  At one point he seems to qualify his criticism, saying he opposes a cross

as a representation of military service…

because it makes non-Christians feel like “second class” citizens.

(Oddly, he simultaneously says this situation has “nothing to do with people’s feelings.”)  Later, however, he criticizes the Utah state trooper memorials, which have nothing to do with the military and were raised to honor individuals, not groups.  He likewise claims

if it is a Christian memorial, it needs to be on private land.

which contradicts his own defense of the Catholic memorial.

Perhaps Torpy would write out the legal opinion he expects everyone to follow, because it doesn’t even appear to be clear in his own mind.

Despite his tortured articulation, the long and short of it is Torpy saw a news article on Marines putting up a cross on “public land” as a memorial to their fallen comrades and cried foulsimply because it was a cross.  In what even he admits is a departure from his normal methods, Torpy pulled a Weinstein and publicly demanded the removal of the cross raised by the Marines.  He claims the mere presence of the cross is illegal.  He finds the cross offensive, and his offense is just cause to prevent the memorial from remaining.

Will the cross be allowed to stand?  It’s difficult to say.  It seems Camp Pendleton may be justified in pulling it down on a “technicality” — those who raised it apparently did so without filing in the appropriate paperwork.

Of course, the entire memorial, not just the cross, lacked the required paperwork and would thus have to come down.  Nothing like honoring your Marines by ripping up years of heart-wrenching memorials to their ultimate sacrifice. 

Perhaps the Marines will follow the other common military “protocol” of allowing the paperwork to “catch up” to permit the memorial — which has stood for nearly a decade and been visited by thousands of Marines — to remain.  Paperwork notwithstanding, there is no legal cause to remove the cross.

It is also worth noting this has essentially been the work of one person.  Contrary to Torpy’s insinuations of representing “thousands” of fellow atheists, Camp Pendleton Public Affairs said they received “two emails in displeasure.” While he has some supporters after the fact, comments at multiple news articles include a significant number of self-described non-Christians defending the cross, and even some military atheists “apologizing” for Torpy’s attacks.

In the end, Torpy’s criticisms are only the latest attack on any hint of association between the US military and Christianity, despite the fact no law or policy (including the US Constitution) precludes any such thing.  They will not be the last.