Robert Knight: Uprooting Crosses, One by One


ACRU Staff


August 31, 2010

ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight wrote this article appearing August 27, 2010 on

While the furor over the proposed mosque at Ground Zero has New York Gov. David Paterson offering public land as a peace offering, a more familiar symbol – the cross – is systematically being uprooted around the country.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled Aug. 18 that placing crosses where Utah state troopers died violates the Establishment Clause.

The 14 crosses, 12 feet tall and bearing a trooper’s name, have been erected by the privately funded Utah Highway Patrol Association since 1968. Robert Kirby, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist and former cop, initiated it. He told Newsweek, “We wanted something instantly recognizable at 75 miles per hour, something that would say, ‘This is hallowed ground.’ “

Not to a mirror-worshipping group, which sued in 2005. It lost in U.S. district court, which ruled in American Atheists Inc. v. Duncan that the cross is a symbol of “death and burial.” The atheists appealed and persuaded the 10th Circuit to reverse. But a further appeal to the Supreme Court would bode well, given that swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, in Salazar v. Buono (2009) wrote:

“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.”

Did the 10th’s judges not read this majority opinion? Anyway, let’s move on to the Buono case. In California’s Mojave National Preserve, the site of a 7-foot, metal-pipe cross first erected 75 years ago by World War I veterans is bare.

In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of Frank Buono, an ACLU member, atheist and former National Park Service employee living in Oregon. Mr. Buono said the cross offended him when he returned for visits. Congress authorized a transfer of the property to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The case reached the Supreme Court, which reversed an appellate court’s order and kicked it back to the lower court on April 28. Writing for the court majority (and the vast majority of Americans), Justice Kennedy said: “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.”

Ten days later, someone cut down the cross, which had been covered by a plywood box lest Mr. Buono see it and start melting.

When another cross appeared a few days later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s Justice Department ordered the Park Service to remove it.

Over in Monterey, Calif., someone in September 2009 tore down a 40-year-old cross on Del Monte Beach that commemorated the city’s 200th birthday where Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola and Father Juan Crespi landed. City officials voted to allow private funders to replace it, but the ACLU objected. After a year of legal threats, the cross will be rebuilt instead at the Diocese of Monterey’s San Carlos Cemetery.

“In truth, it is no defeat for Christianity,” the Monterey Herald smirked in a March 2 editorial. “It is a victory for those twin freedoms – freedom of religion and freedom from religion.” Right. Dispatching a historic cross to a cemetery is nobody’s defeat. Someone should tell the ACLU folks before they pop more champagne. The paper did admit that the vandal who cut down the cross won “a minor victory.” What would a major victory look like? A torched church?

“It is frustrating to realize that some Christians will truly feel that their faith is under attack even though that simply is not the case,” the Herald insisted. “It is a defeat for no one and a victory for people who want to be allowed to believe as they wish.”

If that editorial writer were to have a colleague of similar ilk reporting on, say, a 16-1 pounding the Dodgers delivered to the San Francisco Giants, we might read: “It is frustrating to realize that some Giants fans will truly feel that their team lost. It is a defeat for no one. They should believe they were all winners.”



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