religious symbols

Big Week For Religious Liberty! (Or, Kaine And Stevens Cut From The Same Cloth)

Just two days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a 5-4 decision to uphold the display of a Cross on a World War I Mojave Desert memorial on what had been public property (once a national park, the land now is owned privately, yet a lower court ruled the Cross still could not be displayed.) In its majority opinion, the court stated:

The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require the eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.

The timing of the decision couldn't have been more fitting — the same day, Governor Bob McDonnell reversed the Kaine administration's discriminatory prayer policy that prohibited Virginia State Police chaplains from praying at public events according to their faith.

Religious liberty 2, ACLU 0!

This recent Supreme Court case, Salazar v. Buono, reversed the decision from a California lower court that ordered the removal of a Cross placed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Mojave National Preserve in 1934 as a memorial to World War I soldiers (see California Catholic Daily). The circumstances surrounding the case, however, are far from simple.

The disagreement began in 1999 when a retired National Park Service employee sued saying that the Cross on public property constituted an unconstitutional establishment of religion. A federal court agreed and ordered that the Cross be removed. The decision was appealed and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court (the nation's most left-wing court) upheld lower court's decision. However, in 2003, before the Cross could be removed, Congress intervened and transferred the land in question to a private owner in an effort to side step the controversy.

Once again the lower courts and 9th Circuit weighed in and stated that Congress' maneuver was objectionable and did not solve the problem. In the meantime, plywood was used to cover the cross to prevent "any further harm." The U.S. Supreme Court then granted cert in the case to put the confusion to rest.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and sent the case back to the lower court to be reassessed "in light of a policy of accommodation." The logical assumption is that the display of the Cross will now be allowed. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas agreed with the majority, but additionally argued that the retired park employee did not have standing to sue since the property had been transferred to a private owner. In addition, while the court did not specifically rule on the display of a Cross on public property, it certainly hinted that it would find such a display acceptable in some circumstances.

However, the written dissent truly was tragic. Justice John Paul Stevens, soon to retire,  wrote that the Cross was an improper and intolerable government endorsement of a specific faith. Similar to Kaine's discriminatory chaplain prayer policy, this opinion is yet another example of growing anti-Christian sentiment (see Huffington Post for anti-Catholic hysterics). Simply the fact that four Supreme Court justices could buy into this "logic" of censorship is proof that we must do more to protect our freedom of conscience. The Family Foundation will continue to keep a pulse on this issue and work on efforts to further protect religious liberty.

Virginia News Stand: April 29, 2010

Annotations & Elucidations The Comeback Continues

The last 48 hours have been good ones for the culture and religious freedom in America and Virginia. Pro-life laws in Oklahoma, a Cross allowed to stay at a memorial and, now, the reversal of a horrible and discriminatory policy in Virginia: the gag on State Police chaplains to pray in Jesus' name. Add that to the elimination of taxpayer funding of abortions in the commonwealth and tighter abortion restrictions in Nebraska, and it's been a reassuring spring in America at the state level, proving there is a movement (that gets results) looking to make its first strike back at a national government governing opposite the will of the people.

We are featured prominently in the lead, as one might expect, with four articles seeking Family Foundation response on Governor Bob McDonnell's reinstatement of the policy allowing state police chaplains to pray in public as they deem. That executive order dominates the news, but there is a curious item that slipped in the news cycle amidst all the chaplain coverage: The governor's reappointment of several Kaine administration officials, including State Police Superintendent Steven Flaherty (who needlessly started the chaplain mess, and boy musn't that been a fun conversation: Colonel Flaherty, if you want to stay, you will let them pray); Daniel Timberlake as director-Department of Planning and Budget; Richard Sliwoski as director-Department of General Services; and Patricia Wright as state superintendent of public instruction. He previously kept Secretary of Finance Ric Brown.

While they may be good folks, at first glance it seems odd to holdover people after getting elected with such a large mandate to make change in economic and education policy. One appointment we do like for certain is that of former colleague Mark Early, Jr. — his Family Foundation connection omitted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch article notwithstanding.

Among the other features in today's News Stand: Governor McDonnell's Rest of Virginia Ask The Governor from earlier today on WRVA-AM in Richmond (yesterday we had the N.Va. version), more reports on the Mojave Desert Cross decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and, speaking of the court, another case it heard regarding the privacy rights of those who signed a petition to initiate the repeal of Washington State's homosexual unions law. 

News

*Governor Lets Va. Troopers Refer to Jesus (Washington Times)

*McDonnell Rescinds State Police Prayer Policy (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

*Va. reinstates prayer policy for state police chaplains (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

*Va. Reinstates Prayer Policy for Police Chaplains (AP/WJZ.com)

McDonnell Reverses State Police Prayer Policy (Roanoke Times)

McDonnell reappoints several Kaine administration officials (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

McDonnell promises a statewide housing policy (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Audio

Ask The Governor (38:59) (WRVA/WRVA.com)

National News

Court skeptical on keeping petitioner IDs private (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Mojave Cross Case: A Signal on Religious Symbols (AP/FoxNews.com)

Supreme Court Allows Mojave War Memorial Cross (Los Angeles Times)

Illegal immigrants plan to leave over Ariz. law (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Democrat senators developing immigration bill (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Fla. gov. on cusp of independent bid for US Senate (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Obama warns of a 'conservative' judicial activism (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Census mail results could be trouble for 5 states (AP/GOPUSA.com)

In financial regs debate, senators look to details (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Commentary

After Policy Stumbles, Obama Turns to Politics (Michael Barone/GOPUSA.com)

Democrat Cabal Dangles Bait For Unwitting Republicans (Christopher G. Adamo/GOPUSA.com)

The National Day of Prayer: The Value of Offending (Paul A. Ibbetson/GOPUSA.com)

America's Political Grand Canyon (Debra Saunders/GOPUSA.com)

Another RINO Punch to the Conservative Gut (Bobby Eberle/GOPUSA.com)

Quotes Of The Day

Poetically, from Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy:

Here one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.

And legally:

The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm. A cross by the side of a public highway marking, for instance, the place where a state trooper perished need not be taken as a statement of governmental support for sectarian beliefs. The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society. See Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577, 598 (1992) ("A relentless and all-pervasive attempt to exclude religion from every aspect of public life could itself become inconsistent with the Constitution"). See also Corporation of Presiding Bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327, 334 (1987) ("This Court has long recognized that the government may (and sometimes must) accommodate religious practices and that it may do so without violating the Establishment Clause"). Rather, it leaves room to accommodate divergent values within a constitutionally permissible framework.