In her essay on Salazar v. Buono, Winni Sullivan ponders why crosses present such a difficulty for the modern, secular nation-state, and she questions the degree to which religious myths and symbols have been supplanted by those of nationalism. “Has secularization failed?” she asks. Sullivan posits that religious symbols’ ability to connect the universal and the particular is at the root of their success. Yet the ambiguity of both the Mojave cross and the commentaries made by various judges in evaluating the case point to the layered religious and secular meanings of the symbol at that particular site and in U.S. society more generally. Perhaps a more expansive definition of civil religion can trace how the same symbol moves across “religious” and “secular” contexts, depending on the site, event, or time in which it is deployed. In Poland, for example, the cross is and is not religious, although it is always sacred. Indeed, this ambiguity, the ability to pivot in different directions, may help account for the cross’s social force.
Posts Tagged ‘The cross and the courts’
On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Salazar v. Buono, its latest effort to specify what the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires of the government with respect to religious objects on public lands.
The object of its concern on this occasion is an eight foot white cross standing on a rock outcropping on a federal preserve in the Mojave Desert, first placed there in 1934 by the Death Valley post of the VFW, and denominated a national WWI memorial by Congress in 2002. The legal issue before the Court was whether the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had properly affirmed a District Court ruling that the 2004 congressional act transferring the acre of land containing the cross to the VFW was illegal. . . .
The six opinions presented in Salazar v. Buono display various views on how the law of injunctions should be applied to the facts. All agree, however, that the District Court’s original decision—finding display of the cross on federal land to be an unconstitutional establishment of religion—is res judicata (that is, “the thing is decided,” and is no longer reviewable). Along the way, however—partly perhaps because, as some of them said, the law of injunctions is not very interesting to them—many of the justices, both at oral argument and in their written opinions, couldn’t resist offering opinions on the public meaning of the cross.