Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Paroxysm of Patriotism": Religious Symbols on Public Land

Stanley Fish writes a fascinating opinion piece in the NYTimes on a recent Supreme Court decision concerning a Cross used in a memorial on public land in the Mojave desert. The argument that won the day was to argue that the cross did not violate the Establishment Clause because it was a secular rather than a religious symbol (something, I should note, is similar to why French students can wear cross necklaces to school, but other religious symbols are excluded). The irony is quite apparent:

Notice what this paroxysm of patriotism had done: it has taken the Christianity out of the cross and turned it into an all-purpose means of marking secular achievements. (According to this reasoning the cross should mark the winning of championships in professional sports.) It is one of the ironies of the sequence of cases dealing with religious symbols on public land that those who argue for their lawful presence must first deny them the significance that provokes the desire to put them there in the first place.

It has become a formula: if you want to secure a role for religious symbols in the public sphere, you must de-religionize them, either by claiming for them a non-religious meaning as Kennedy does here, or, in the case of multiple symbols in a park or in front of a courthouse, by declaring that the fact of many of them means that no one of them is to be taken seriously; they don’t stand for anything sectarian; they stand for diversity. So you save the symbols by leeching the life out of them. The operation is successful, but the patient is dead.

At the end of the piece, Fish claims that he has no problems with the use of symbols of public land, but does have problems with the disingenuous reasoning used to keep them there.

UPDATE: the cross has been stolen! This is a crazy case. See here.


Anonymous said...
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w said...

I don't know if it was said in the article you posted, but apparently this cross was recently stolen from the desert. It's bizarre, of course, and they don't know who did it.

Jared Calaway said...

I don't think that was in the article. And I personally did not know that it was stolen. Strange indeed.