Utah Mormons Rally ‘Round the Cross

Relatives of mine in Utah inform me that many Mormons are rallying around the cross in their efforts to stop the expulsion of religious symbols by an atheist group. Since the cross is not the preferred LDS way of remembering Jesus and does not adorn LDS buildings, I am proud of the support for the cross that Utahns are offering.

The story involves the traditional use of crosses to mark the spot on a road where a person was killed. In this case, it’s the State Highway Patrol that has marked 14 sites where their officers have been killed. American Atheists, Inc. is suing. Somehow, marking sites with crosses is supposed to be an appalling violation of civil liberties.

Frankly, I think we should all pitch in with donations for the atheists behind this suit. If we gave them a bucket of cash, they could get out more often and go someplace like Washington, D.C., where they might notice that crosses are used in places like Arlington National Cemetery [note: they are typically engraved on markers], that references to God are inscribed in national monuments, that at least some Federal inaugurations are done using the Bible, etc. And with that bucket of cash, they might notice that “In God We Trust” has long been part of US currency and coins. Maybe they would recognize just how out of touch they are with America and the real intent of our Constitution: to protect religious liberty, not stamp it out. On the other hand, if they are incensed by 14 obscure crosses scattered around Utah, they might just suffer instant cardiac arrest upon seeing thousands of crosses on Federal land at Arlington.

Related stories: “Rally to oppose atheists on cross issue” from the Deseret News, and “Another Atheist Cross To Bear” from KOMO TV. Also see Lee Benson’s commentary, “Atheists Are Crossed Up Over Crosses.

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Author: Jeff Lindsay

46 thoughts on “Utah Mormons Rally ‘Round the Cross

  1. Jeff, unfortunately, if this bunch got hold of a bucket of cash they would use it to destroy every cross at Arlington National Cemetery, erase every reference to God in every national monument, issue restraining orders against using the Bible in an inaugural, and have “In God We Trust” removed from all currency and government structures. All this right after they chop down and burn the national Christmas tree. I think we’d better just do all we can to keep them poor.

    I’ve been searching the Constitution for some time now, and I still haven’t found the “right not to be exposed to the views of others” clause.

  2. Jeff, there’s a big problem here and though it makes you angry, the overarching point is valid.

    The Utah Highway Patrol, a government agency, chose to use a religious symbol as their memorial. A government agency can’t do that.

    Arlington is a red herring because the only time a religious symbol is added to a tombstone there is if a family requests it. There are also many choices to reflect the religious diversity of those buried there. Those are perfectly reasonable accommodations of religious faith.

    The UHP didn’t consult surviving families to ask what they’d like for a memorial, nor did they provide alternatives for fallen officers who weren’t Christian (let alone some LDS officers, an assumed majority, who might prefer a symbol more associated with Mormonism than Catholicism). Everyone got a cross because that’s what UHP chose.

    Itbugaf’s sarcastic point about the “right not to be exposed to the views of others” is a mischaracterization of the issue. Atheists aren’t complaining because they hate crosses. They’re complaining because a government agency is using a religious symbol as their publicly-funded memorial. Note that this isn’t a lawsuit to eliminate privately-funded crosses from the public view on private land. Such a lawsuit would be laughed out of court.

    If you want to be upset with someone, focus on the boneheads at UHP who didn’t stop to think that a government agency using a recognized religious symbol in a public memorial was a bad idea.

  3. ltbugaf’s point about the right not to be exposed to the views of others is not in the least sarcastic. Nor is it a mischaracterization. These groups sue school districts claiming that their children are HARMED by sitting at a graduation ceremony where someone else offers a prayer. They also claim they are HARMED by having a government agency use a cross. There is no harm.

  4. It’s not strictly an issue of harm. It’s an issue of authority. The government has no authority to force a religious symbol on anyone, even in a case where we might welcome the symbol.

    Even if the idea of harm was brought up in the rhetoric, the ultimate ruling is based on whether or not the government agency violates the Constitution with their entanglement in religion. That is obviously the case with the UHP.

    The mischaracterization is to say that the underlying Constitutional issue is the “right to not be exposed to the views of others.” It makes it easy for you to demonize those who press the issue. The fact remains that the one who has violated the Constitution here is the UHP and to ostracize atheists for pointing it out is neither fair nor Christlike. We can do better.

  5. There’s no mischaracterization at all. Athiests have repeatedly stated that they believe that “freedom of religion” also entails “freedom from religion”. That is patently false. There is no freedom from religion any more than there is a freedom from Libertarians or freedom from fat people.

    American Athiests is poorly named, however. They’re not so much anti-religion as they are anti-Christian. The memorials are for deceased officers who were of a Christian background, clearly. Do you think that if a jewish trooper were killed that they would put a cross there? And would the AA’s be suing because of the symbol of a Star of David on a roadside? Not likely.

    Athiests apparently can’t read. The Constitution clearly states that Congress shall make no laws affecting the establishment of religion. It doesn’t say that the government (especially a state government, I should add) cannot memorialize its deceased officers with a religious symbol. No such symbol would imply an endorsement of a state religion.

    That this is happening in Utah makes the point even stronger. We as Latter-day Saints are the predominate faith in Utah (even though I’m in Georgia). We don’t use the cross as a symbol. The UHP IS using a cross, the symbol of a minority (protestatism) religion there. Are we to infer by the AA’s suit that the UHP is attempting to establish protestantism as a state religion? Ridiculous.

    That’s the essence of the establishment clause. The government can’t set up a state religion. Memorializing dead people isn’t doing that.

  6. Tell you what. Go to your state legislature and see if you can pass a law that says that, since we don’t have freedom from religion, all citizens of your state must declare allegiance to some religion. Guess how far it would go.

    There wouldn’t be much freedom in our freedom of religion if it didn’t include the freedom to choose not to worship.

    You and I have freedom of religion. The government does not. The government is proscribed from matters of religion, either pro or con.

    Your argument about the establishment clause has been tried before and has failed. Just last year the Supreme Court unanimously re-affirmed that the establishment clause is as Jefferson called it, a wall of separation between church and state. That includes UHP using a religious symbol as it’s memorial.

  7. Chad Too: If you can, please fill me in on some more of the details.

    1. Do you know for a fact that any of the families of the deceased officers objected to the cross on the roadside memorial for their loved one?

    2. Are any of those families supporting or joining the AA Inc. suit against the UHP?

    3. Would AA Inc. be satisfied and withdraw the suit if the UHP sought permission from the next-of-kin of each officer, and removed the cross from the memorial of each officer whose next-of-kin did not consent?

    If the federal gov’t can put religious symbols on the memorials or graves of soldiers (IE. at Arlington) with the consent of the next-of-kin, I think it would be congruent for a state government to do likewise.

    What do I want on my tombstone? I think I’d like 4 symbols included: the star of David, the cross, a crescent with star, and a silhouette of Moroni blowing his trumpet. That would cover the bases and confuse people.

    And as my epitaph, I think I’d like “See ya later, alligator.”

  8. It’s really pretty funny to hear that, in Utah, the dominant religion is trying to impose its icon — the cross — on a minority of unbelievers. You have to know little or nothing about Mormonism to buy that line.

    The fact is that the cross has become a generic symbol for deaths — it’s routinely used, for example, after the name of a deceased person on lists of editors, etc. — and it’s routinely used, on maps, to as a generic marker to indicate the location of a place of worship even where that place of worship belongs to a religious tradition that doesn’t use the cross in its iconography [e.g., for a Latter-day Saint chapel or temple]).

    When I’m driving along and see a cross on the roadside, I instantly know that somebody died there. This occurrence of the cross to mark the cite of a fatality is extremely common. The cross is an immediately recognizable visual symbol for death, irrespective of theological specifics, and I can’t imagine what other symbol one could substitute that would do the job anywhere near half so well.

  9. A letter writer to the Deseret News pointed out that the grave markers in Arlington are not crosses. I did notice some pictures of monuments that are in the shape of crosses, though they seem to be rare. I’ve never been to Arlington; I’m basing my information on the photo galery at their web site.

  10. The grave markers at Arlington have crosses, or other religious symbols, inscribed on them. The grave markers at several other military cemeteries are actually shaped as crosses or other religious symbols.

  11. I have 2 comments:

    1. Highway 10 in Wisconsin had a large number of fatalities. the crosses put up were ordered take down as they caused a traffic hazard because people were looking at them instead of the road.

    2. How would we feel if the people with the crosses put up satanic symbols—-such as a large “upside down” cross?

  12. 1. That is orthogonal to the stated issue. The issue is whether it is a church/state issue not whether they are a hazard.

    2. If it is a legitimate sign for their religion then they should be able to use it. Of course, I would hope that someone wouldn’t take advantage of anothers death as an excuse to erect a symbol for the sole purpose of offending others.

  13. come on, where will this Church/State thing end? Do kids have to get suspended from school for saying “God” before we draw the line?

    The crosses on the side of the road are for the fallen officers who risk their lives day in and day out for you, the tax payers, safety. Those people gave their lives for their jobs, and your safety. AA needs to have a little respect in this issue. To demand a cross is taken down because you think the state is imposing a religion is tasteless. Have some respect for the fallen and their families and let it go!! Until the government puts a cross on your private property, I hardly think they are constituting a state religion.

    one more thing. AA doesn’t think it is right that the crosses were put up with tax payers dollars. Come on, I can’t even count on two hands everytime the government uses my money for things I don’t agree with.
    I guess my point is, can’t we all just get along? can’t we all just act like rational polite people? if you don’t like it, do what i do everytime i see an “adult studio” billboard littering the highway, look away.
    -MI LDS

  14. Bookslinger, you’re placing the burden in the wrong place. It is up to the UHP to show that they were only following the wishes of the deceased’s families if you’re hoping to show that the crosses were merely an accommodation. There has been nothing put out by the UHP indicating that they interviewed the families before creating their monuments.

    Whether any of the families have joined the lawsuit is irrelevant. The slight is against the Constitution, not the families.

    As far as getting permission now is concerned, I hope you’re not arguing a forgiveness-rather-than permission approach to our civil liberties. I don’t know how a judge would rule on that because it’s clear from the get-go that UHP was going to use crosses as their memorial regardless. The violation has already happened.

  15. Daniel Peterson: The cross as a memorial is far from universal. You’re not likely to find a cross on the tombstones of non-Christians and even some Christians. I don’t recall any of my LDS grandparents with crosses on their headstones.

    As to the symbology, there *is* a universal symbol, at least among US law enforcement, and that’s a badge with a black ribbon across it. We could have avoided all this snarking back and forth if UHP had gone that direction.

  16. qhunt, two things:

    Those officers didn’t work just for Christians. They gave their lives for the law; is it too much to expect UHP would follow it in their memorial?

    As to tax dollars, it does matter that these memorials were publically funded. All the more reason why the First Amendment comes into play.

    Your call for rationality and politeness is a little too late. It should have been brought into play when the UHP was designing the memorials in the first place. Then, out of respect for the law and respect for the families they could have chosen a design that was rational, polite, and didn’t run afoul of the Constitution. That’s where “getting along” should have started.

  17. At 12:36 PM qhunt said…
    Do kids have to get suspended from school for saying “God” before we draw the line?

    Musing, I thought how fascinating that these days anyone can freely use the name of God as a swear-word–anytime, anywhere– but will get into a pickle if they use His name as a prayer-word. What’s the matter with this picture?

  18. Granny, you are welcome to pray whenever you like. Pray at home, pray in the park, pray in your fields.

    Private prayer is always fine. Government-led prayer is the only place where praying is problematic. Don’t let a misunderstanding of the issues at hand stop you from praying!

  19. We have the right to freedom of speech…unless it’s something someone in a minority doesn’t want to hear, such as a prayer.
    We’re so busy defending the rights of those in the minority (and don’t get me wrong, they deserve to be heard) but there’s a reason there’s a majority.
    Why is it only okay to speak or do what you want, so long as it isn’t Christian? This country was founded upon Christian principles. You’re not being forced to be baptised, attend any church, pay tithes, etc. This country was founded with the idea in mind that everyone would be free to worship as they want (so long as it doesn’t harm others.) Are you telling me it’s harmful to discuss a faith that encourages it members to have self-control, serve others, and live their life aware of consequences for their actions? As a school teacher I find it ridiculous that I have to carefully select words so that religion is in no way discussed. Considering this is such a crucial element to all of mankind I think future generations would benefit so much more by discussion (which leads to tolerance) of many different beliefs.

  20. There is scarcely a thing in art or nature that does not have religious significance to some group. If we wrest the First Amendment to mean that government may never use a symbol with religious significance, the government will hardly be able to build or publish anything.

    But as Professor Peterson has already pointed out, the cross has more than one meaning. The fact that it symbolizes worship of Jesus in one context–say, on top of a church–does not mean it never has any other significance–say, to mark a medical facility, to identify a first aid kit, to mark a final destination on a map (buried treasure!) or to mark the site of a death.

  21. The Cross of St Andrew and the Cross of St Patrick–which you can see incorporated into the British Union Jack–are configured like an “X.” But they’re religious symbols, just as the X in “Xmas” is shorthand for Christ. This presents a serious problem, don’t you think? Our governments have set up signs all over the nation that read “ped Xing.” Furthermore, we pay taXes to government at all levels. The government is forcing these religious symbols on us. Perhaps we need to replace them with a symbol of neutrality–say, a zero. Then we could pay our ta0es and use pedestring 0ings. But wait a minute–the zero looks like an egg–a clear symbol of both fertility worship (think Oestre) and Christianity (think Easter). Now what can we do???

  22. On the other hand, the zero is a symbol of nothingness, an apparent advocacy of atheism. Government can’t use these symbols, or they’ll be taking a stand against religion.

    Now what symbol will the GAO use to show the national debt?

  23. I just drove home and noticed that the government has erected a sign with a CROSS on it, near my street. It’s a yellow, diamond-shaped sign, placed near a four-way intersection.

    Will AA and the ACLU save me from this oppression?

  24. “Government-led prayer is the only place where praying is problematic.”

    Wish that were true. Unfortunately, STUDENT-led prayer is strictly prohibited at school gatherings and ceremonies.

    By the way, why hasn’t AA sued to remove the beehive symbol–clearly one of religious significance, and even derived from LDS scripture–from Utah’s flag, highway patrol patches, state highway signs, and so on?

  25. I don’t know where you got your information about Arlington Cemetery, but it does not use crosses. It uses simple solid headstones. The stones may have very small religious symbols on them if the family members choose – which include crosses, stars of David, symbols of Moroni, etc.

    Perhaps you are confusing it with famous images of some other large cemeteries in France?

  26. I am amazed at the uneducated comments about prayer on this thread. A lot of people here just don’t understand seperation of church and state. Do you all live in Utah? Granny is old and her ignorance of these things is forgivable, but everyone else?
    BTW, majority rules is lame. What if the majority wanted to worship satan? Would you still hold the same opinion?

  27. Anonymous: Rather than just tell us we’re uneducated, why not identify which comments about prayer you believe are uneducated and then explain how they’re wrong. That would actually promote discussion.

  28. “Granny is old and her ignorance of these things is forgivable…”

    Wow, there’s so much bigotry against the aged here, I really don’t know where to start. I’ll just hit a couple highlights:

    First, you have no idea how old Granny is.

    Second, “old” is not equal to “ignorant.” “Old” is not equal to “likelier to be ignorant.” “Old” is not equal to “should be expected to be ignorant.” “Old” is not equal to “has a valid excuse for being ignorant.” Don’t know where you picked up these foolish notions, but you should drop them before you get a day older yourself.

    And while you’re slinging around accusations of ignorance, perhaps you could be troubled to provide some actual facts or evidence supporting your own side. Or even just state what your side is, rather than dropping by to tell everyone they’re wrong and ignorant.

  29. itbugfa, give it a rest man. Don’t you ever get tired of finding people to argue with? Life is for living, get out and do some.

  30. Bookslinger:

    The government agency used a religious symbol for it’s memorial. There is plenty of evidence for a plaintiff to show that supports the claim that the UHP memorial design is unconstitutional. I have every confidence that the plaintiff can meet the burden.

    I was referring to the government’s defense. If the UHP argument is going to be that they were merely accommodating the religious choices of the fallen officers or their families (which is what you were alluding to) they would have to show that they had done the footwork in advance. So far, there’s been no evidence to show that is the case. If they can’t produce it then it’s a blatant, even if inadvertant, First Amendment faux pas.

  31. Yes, the markers at Arlington are generally rather rectangular stones, but crosses are engraved on many of them. See, for example, http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org/photo_gallery/05-13-05.html , where you can see several crosses, including an actual stone cross lying on a marker at the left.

    Who can fathom the irreparable damage to our Constitutional rights that has been done by permitting such symbols on Federal land?

  32. WARNING! Do not read the paragraph below if you are a sensitive type who goes into conniptions at the sight of a cross or other religious symbol.

    Not only are there numerous engraved crosses adorning tombstones at Arlington, but there are true stone crosses. One example is the impressive Argonne Cross smack dab in the middle of Federal property. An even more dramatic example is the large, true stone cross towering over part of the cemetary. also built using government funds. I refer to the “Cross of Sacrifice” or “Canadian Cross” dedicated in 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge for fallen US citizens who joined the Canadian Armed Forces in World War I before the US got into the fray. If you’re a brave soul, you can view a large photo here.

    Shiver me timbers!

  33. Usually one can turn to this blog for well-thought out commentary and insight. Instead, today we get mocking and disrespect of those whose beliefs differ our own.

    This is beneath you, Jeff.

  34. Chad, sorry you were so offended. Was it the warning to sensitive souls that offended you, or the rhetorical question about damage done by crosses on Federal land?

  35. Here’s another shocker: The Department of Defense has been pinning CROSSES on soldiers, sailors and airmen for decades and the practice continues unabated! The Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross are yet another example of an impermissible entanglement of government with religion. That is, if we’re to accept Chad Too’s apparent position that the cross is always a religious symbol. Distinguish yourself on the field of battle, and the government may put a cross on your chest–even if you’re a Jew, a Muslim, or an atheist.

    Turning to a different matter, there’s a point I’m having trouble understanding: Chad Too reminds us that (1) the crosses placed on Arlington grave markers are small, and that (2) they are placed there by permission or request of the deceaseds’ families. My questions are (1)So what? and (2) So what?

    Does size negate a church-state entanglement? Is a smaller cross better than a big one? If the UHP reduces the size of its memorial markers will they become constitutional?

    Does permission or request negate a church-state entanglement? If a small town in Utah has only Christian students, and all the parents give their permission or make a request, can the school put on a Bible pageant?

    Chad Too says placing religious symbols on military graves at the request of families is a “perfectly reasonable accommodation of religious faith.” I agree. But a lot of now-banned practices are also reasonable accommodations. One example is allowing an invocation at a high school graduation ceremony.

    Anonymous at 5:34 exhorts me to “give it a rest.” As best I can make out, Anon thinks posting on this thread is an undesirable practice? So why is Anon doing it?

    Anonymous also asks if I “ever get tired of finding people to argue with.” I don’t come here trolling for debate opponents. I come here to share my views, which is exactly what Jeff invited me to do. Sometimes I have few views to share, and sometimes I have a lot.

  36. Chad Too and an anonymous poster had an interesting exchange on Dec 20 with regard to “freedom from religion.” Chad points out that if we’re not free to practice no religion, we really don’t have religious freedom. Quite right.

    But there is a pervasive, and in my opinion growing, tendency for people to assert another kind of right to “freedom from religion.” They believe they have a constitutionally protected right to be shielded from religious expressions. This is the “right” not to be exposed to the beliefs of others that I mentioned early on. When an atheist argues that someone else must be barred from praying or mentioning God, or even mentioning religion, because there’s an atheist or an atheist’s child in the room, I think it’s this “right” that’s being asserted. And I don’t think that right exists.

  37. Given the animosity of certain factions of our society toward religion, it is not hard at all to see the day come when they wish to extend their view on the “rights” of the 1st amendment to prohibit proselyting activity, since that infringes on the right to be shielded from exposure to religion. The zeal to impose separation of Church and state utlimately could become separation of the Church from the States.

    I can easily imagine legislation banning missionaries from approaching people to discuss religion unless the person initiates the conversation and clearly expresses a desire to be contacted first.

  38. Excellent points, ltbugaf. Thanks for the insights.

    I’m afraid we’re also going to have to put new limits on the Red Cross. There are reports of certain government officials collaborating with them in New Orleans and other scenes of Federal activity. Deeply offensive.

  39. Chad,
    The issues I raised address whether or not the plaintiffs had any standing with which to file the suit. To me, it looks like they don’t. If AA were representing a next-of-kin who