Cross Theft Lesson: Government Neutrality On Religion Helps Prevent Interfaith Conflict

Because of this poorly reasoned decision, misguided persons have turned to acts of vandalism and ransom notes.

Earlier this week, we heard reports that someone had stolen the Latin cross that was the subject of the recent Supreme Court decision, Salazar v. Buono.

As you may recall, Justice Anthony Kennedy issued an opinion that likely paves the way for the religious symbol to remain in the Mojave National Preserve. He said that the cross was not merely a religious symbol, but could serve as a memorial for all those who have fought for our country.

Americans United disagreed with the high court’s decision, but we do not condone acts of vandalism and theft. Even though the court’s ruling is not in keeping with the separation of church and state, we must abide by the law and the court’s decision.

However, there is a lesson here, and I’d like to point it out.

An anonymous caller contacted the Desert Dispatch in Barstow, Calif., on Tuesday evening claiming that he knew who was responsible for the theft. He said the thief wanted the newspaper to print a statement explaining why the cross was stolen and how the owner could get it back.

The statement, which the paper published in full, was written by a veteran who felt Justice Kennedy “desecrated and marginalized the memory and sacrifice of all those non-Christians that died in WWI.…”

He also made it clear that the cross had not been harmed in any way and when a memorial that represents all veterans is chosen in the cross’ place, he will return the Christian symbol.

Without a doubt, this man is wrong to steal. But his action vividly demonstrates the kind of inter-religious hostility that can erupt when the government favors one faith over others.

Americans United reminded the high court in our friend-of-the-court brief that those serving in our armed forces come from diverse religious backgrounds, and this cross cannot possibly represent all our veterans.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 29 percent of those currently serving in the U.S. military are not Christian.

Americans United works every day to ensure that government remains neutral on matters of religion. We know that religion can divide communities and nations. The United States, despite a few bumps in the road, has been pretty successful in avoiding interfaith conflict by keeping church and state separate.

Unfortunately, the Salazar decision by the high court is one of those bumps in the road. Because of this poorly reasoned decision, misguided persons have turned to acts of vandalism and ransom notes.

All of this could have been avoided if the government had just remained neutral and kept any and all religious displays off public land. It’s an easy solution. Plus, there are plenty of non-sectarian symbols that could have honored our veterans and kept the peace at the same time.