The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sharp debate at high court over cross on US land

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the Supreme Court weighed a dispute over a religious symbol on public land Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia was having difficulty understanding how some people might feel excluded by a cross that was put up as a memorial to soldiers killed in World War I.

"It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead," Scalia said of the cross that the Veterans of Foreign Wars built 75 years ago atop an outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve. "What would you have them erect?...Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"

Peter Eliasberg, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer arguing the case, explained that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and commonly used at Christian grave sites, not that the devoutly Catholic Scalia needed to be told that.

"I have been in Jewish cemeteries," Eliasberg continued. "There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew."

There was mild laughter in the packed courtroom, but not from Scalia...

You can read the entire transcript of the oral arguments here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NPR: High Court Weighs Legality Of Memorial Cross

A white cross erected on a rock outcropping on federal land in California's Mojave Desert is at the heart of a Supreme Court case about the government's display of religious symbols.

Critics say the cross violates the Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion. The case will be argued Wednesday.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars' Death Valley post first built the cross at Sunrise Rock in 1934 to honor Americans who died in combat in World War I. The most recent version of the cross was erected 11 years ago by a man named Henry Sandoz.

Neither the VFW nor Sandoz ever owned the land where the cross is located — nor did they have permission to build on the land.

But in 1999, a Buddhist asked the National Park Service for permission to erect a Buddhist shrine on federal land near the cross. The agency refused, setting in motion a series of events in the courts and Congress, culminating in Wednesday's Supreme Court hearing.