Crossing Justice Scalia
Thursday, October 8, 2009; 3:11 PM
Justice Antonin Scalia thinks it???s an ???outrageous conclusion??? that a six-and-a-half-foot-high cross only honors the ???Christian war dead.??? I think it???s an outrageous conclusion that Scalia doesn???t get the exclusionary symbolism of a cross. To back up: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in what is, at least to me, a difficult case about the constitutionality of a cross erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to honor those killed in World War I. This would not be a problem except for the fact that the land the cross is on has been federal property. (It was federal property and then was transferred to the VFW in an attempt to get around a federal court order holding that the cross violated the Establishment Clause separating church and state.) Reasonable people, I think, can differ about whether, given this long history, the cross, well, crosses the line of separation between church and state. Reasonable people cannot, I think, differ about whether the cross -- a Christian cross -- can be interpreted as honoring all the war dead. Scalia is not a reasonable person. ???It???s erected as a war memorial,??? he told American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Peter Eliasberg, who was challenging the cross. ???I assume it???s erected in honor of all the war dead....The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead....What would you have them erect? A cross -- some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and, you know, a Moslem half moon and star???? Really, what else could they erect to honor the war dead if not a cross? Crosses are fine -- for Christians, and for Christian graves. I???m not a veteran, but I am Jewish, and I cannot believe that Jewish war veterans would feel honored by a cross. In fact, I expect they would feel rather deeply dishonored. The cross conveys the notion that the soldiers died in service of a Christian nation. That is a big deal -- Scalia???s mockery notwithstanding.