By: Aditya Prasad
The Cross along with the Ten Commandments are some of the most important symbols of Christianity. They are identifiable across the world and are constant reminders of the Christian faith. However, in recent times there has been much argument about the public placement of these symbols, supporters view it as historical monuments and cultural icons while opponents view it as a state’s religious endorsement.
This constantly throws the Government in a tough spot, as it has to choose in a sense what the majority of a state wants. What’s interesting is that how the government tries to keep everyone happy tapering its state laws differently. The following article mentions some examples on what a difference these laws can play regarding public placement.
Earlier this fall, the Supreme Court had an opportunity to clarify the convoluted guidance it has provided in past cases. (On one day alone in 2005, the high court struck down a Ten Commandments display in a Kentucky courthouse, but upheld a Ten Commandments monument in a park on Texas Statehouse grounds.)
But on Oct. 31, the Court ducked the issue when it declined to hear an appeal of a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision ordering the removal of roadside crosses honoring fallen Utah state troopers (Davenport v. American Atheists).
Although the 12-foot tall crosses were donated by a private group, they bear the Utah Highway Patrol official symbol and are mostly on public land. According to the 10th Circuit, a “reasonable observer” would conclude that “the state of Utah is endorsing Christianity.”
What will this mean for other roadside crosses on public land? Would removing the police insignia cure the First Amendment problem? Is it more or less of a constitutional issue if other religious symbols are also used? The Supreme Court won’t say.
As seen above the Ten Commandments statue in one state was removed but the exact same one was preserved in another. The Supreme Court hides its face when called upon to justify its actions regarding these cases. This causes major confusion for other courts to set precedents across the nation.
One of the alternative ways to go about it is to allow the statues to be placed on private property instead of public property. However, this will cause much arousal to the supporters of certain symbols. Otherwise another way could be to try and plan a more ‘evened out ground’ by placing various religious symbols and spreading them out evenly across a state. But this will give rise to a new debate about placement, as some groups will prefer one symbol to placed closer to them while others will object. One can see the issues consistently faced by the government as it wishes to have its people freely preach their religion in public, but is what it doing justified?
What’s remarkable about cases like these (and there are many) is how far some Americans will go to preserve religious symbols on public property — and how far others will go to see that all vestiges of religion are removed from the public square.
With true believers dug in on both sides, it’s not surprising that the Supreme Court struggles to find a balanced approach that keeps the government from taking sides in religion, but allows citizens to display their faith in public spaces.
One lesson of the conflict seems clear: In a diverse, divided and litigious America, one religious symbol no longer fits all. If it ever did.
Upon observing Geertz’s definition of religion to this situation, one can truly see how the symbols provide powerful motivations in people and how in a sense a majority could critically influence the state’s decision. Further because we see each religion attempting to organize people by trying to create a general order of existence, there is a constant clash between different religions regarding the public placements of their symbols due to their inherently different meanings and values. Making it evident that one religious symbol can never fit all.