PUBLIC FAITH AND THE PEACE CROSS

First Things | 6/21/2019 | Ed Condon
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On Thursday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case American Legion v. American Humanist Association. By a margin of 7-2, the judges determined that a large Roman cross, known as the Peace Cross, could remain on public land and be maintained by the state.

The cross was erected after World War I by the mothers of fallen American soldiers. Its primary purpose as a memorial to the soldiers, rather than an expression of public Christianity, was a key part of the court’s determination to let it stand. But a cross is a religious symbol, and no other use of it can detract from that. While using a cross to honor the dead passed without question in previous decades, it is, at least to the humanists who demanded its removal, an implicit statement of faith on public land.

Faith - Democracy - America - Faith—at - Faith—and

But the faith of whom? As a constitutional democracy, America has no faith—at least, no single faith—and the First Amendment concerns raised by apparently public confessional symbols merited the court’s consideration. In a democracy, the founding document of which begins “We, the people,” where does the faith of its people end and the government’s lack of faith begin?

Recently, many American Catholic writers have engaged in a contentious debate about whether our secular democracy is evolving—inevitably or otherwise—to the point where the public square cannot tolerate “the people” expressing their faith. The raft of lawsuits brought in recent years against universities and other institutions in the face of stifling restrictions on speech illustrates this point, as does public intolerance for anyone articulating a faithful understanding of natural law regarding human dignity and sexuality—an understanding which was widely held not long ago.

Justice - Alito - Majority - Opinion - Cross

As Justice Alito noted in the majority opinion, it is unlikely such a cross could be built in such a place today. But,...
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