Congress Makes Monumental Mistake

A 29-Foot Lighted Cross Owned by the Defense Department Is What Theocracy Looks Like

Statement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to thwart the court-ordered removal of a huge cross from public land in San Diego, by approving a scheme to transfer the city land to federal control.

The House previously voted in early July to acquire the 29-foot cross and land under it on Mount Soledad, the subject of a 17-year legal battle. In that instance, 74 members of Congress had the guts, and the integrity, to vote against this religious-right maneuver. Was there no voice for reason or the separation or church and state in the entire Senate? The bill now goes for certain signature by the president.

The case has been brought by Philip Paulson, now a Foundation member, who will receive the premiere Atheist in Foxholes" award at the upcoming national FFRF convention in October.

The "Atheists in Foxholes" award is meant to reward someone who embodies courage and perseverance in the face of a hostile community, let alone the entire Senate! In the past two decades, Phil, a veteran, and his attorney have consistently won in the courts. But the city of San Diego, egged on by religious fanatics, has, in its expensive crusade, shamelessly tried to evade the courts, which have uniformly ruled that a Latin cross, the very symbol of Christianity, may not be housed permanently on public land. To say San Diego officials and their Christian boosters have been "poor losers" is to put it mildly. The Senate vote came one day before the deadline to remove the cross, imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Thompson Jr., who first ordered the cross removed 15 years ago!

Traditionally, when the House passes wild legislation or the president pushes for unconstitutional bills, cooler heads prevail in the Senate. Today, with the presidency, House and Senate largely in the pocket of the religious right, we mainly look to the courts for reason to prevail.

The federal-purchase strategy was concocted precisely to thwart the will of the courts--not just Judge Thompson, but the appeal court and even the Supreme Court, which refused appeals.

It is yet another demonstration of Congressional contempt not just for the separation of church and state, but for an independent judiciary.

Truly disappointing was the "yea" votes of California's two women senators, both Democrats who theoretically support the separation of church and state. This week, they and many others in the Senate sacrificed their principles on the altar of political pandering.

The Senate regurgitated the rationale that the huge cross on Mount Soledad is a "war memorial." In that case, why for decades have Christians routinely gathered before the lighted cross on Easter morning for worship? Can you imagine Congress intervening to "save" a 29-foot crescent and star on public property that is traditionally worshipped by Muslims on Islam holy days?

We know attorney James McElroy will challenge this development as vigorously as he has challenged every stumbling block thrown in the way of Phil Paulson's lawsuit.

But what a dismaying sign of the times. What else does Christian theocracy look like if it doesn't resemble a 29-foot, lighted cross owned by the Department of Defense?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.
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The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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