Articles Defend, Attack Camp Pendleton Cross
Competing opinion pieces at the UT San Diego debate the appropriateness of the Camp Pendleton crosses, memorials that have stood on a remote hill on a US Marine base for years until an atheist found out they were there.
Ever-sensitive atheist Jason Torpy, the original complainant who found out about the crosses on the internet, reminds people the crosses “violate religious neutrality,” since the presence of religious symbols on government land is apparently totally forbidden:
Two 13-foot Christian crosses stand on restricted federal land as a result of unauthorized actions by private individuals…All of this speaks to a Marine-led Christianization of the military that Marine leaders must step in to resolve…
The crosses at Camp Pendleton are on federal land and represent the federal government and so violate the government’s mandate to maintain neutrality toward religion…
Because of our respect that we stand up to defend the Constitution against those who would subvert it for religious purposes.
Torpy’s angst seems to be a decent representation of the New Atheism, which believes that the mere existence of a religious symbol with any remote association with the government must be eliminated. The US Constitution itself makes no such demand, and the Supreme Court has gone out of its way to say that ‘separation of church and state’ does not demand that the public landscape be scrubbed of all things remotely religious.
A symbol on a US military base such as this, whether it be a cross, crescent, or Burger King sign, does not violate the Constitution, even if some might find it offensive. In fact, Torpy fails to acknowledge that the US government establishing a policy that says ‘your memorial is banned because it is religious‘ violates the very Constitution he seems to think he’s defending.
Eric Rassbach, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, provided the alternate view, saying the Marines “defend, deserve freedom of speech.” He accurately notes those who are complaining about the crosses are “hypersecularists:”
That won’t be enough for the hypersecularists. They believe they have a right to freedom from religion, a right not to see other people express their beliefs in public; in short, a right to silence others. And never mind the separation of church and state – these groups want to separate all traces of religion from public life.
Indeed, these groups seem oblivious that they are attacking a deeply human instinct: to commemorate the dead in accordance with one’s beliefs, and not as mandated by any outside party – not the government, not the easily offended bystander…
(Rassbach also gets a dig in at Michael Weinstein, calling his Military Religious Freedom Foundation “falsely named.”)
Torpy bemoans the fact it has been six months since he complained, as if every waking moment is a tortuous effort not to be converted to Christianity due to the cross in Southern California. In fact, while the cross has been used for memorials in that time, the lack of government sponsored conversions in that time actually undermines his premise.
Ultimately, the memorial is on a US military facility and the US government can do just about anything it wants there, from making the memorial permanent to razing it. Unlike some other reactions to outside groups’ complaints, the US military seems to be taking the opportunity to make a slow, measured response — rather than a knee-jerk reaction to a vicariously offended third party. Hopefully, they’ll make the right decision.
With reference to the ADF.