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Atheist Christian Haters Win In Court – OpEd

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For 75 years, Bayview Park, in a Pensacola, Florida neighborhood, has been home to a large cross. The 1941 wooden cross, erected by a New Deal agency, was replaced by a civic group in 1969 with a 34-foot concrete “Latin cross.” No one complained until recently. On June 19, a federal judge ordered it to be taken down.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson was sympathetic to the Christians who wanted the cross to stay, but felt he had no choice but to rule against them.

“Thousands upon thousands,” he noted, made their way each year to attend Easter services and to commemorate Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. But this mattered not a whit to the militant atheists at the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association: they filed suit claiming the cross violated the First Amendment.

The claims made by the atheists are transparently dishonest, and the ruling by Judge Vinson is proof positive that the U.S. Supreme Court has created mass confusion on this issue.

Plaintiff Amanda Kondrat’yev said she first encountered the cross while walking through Bayview Park with a friend in 2008 or 2009. Here is what the lawsuit said:

“She was immediately affronted by the government’s enormous Christian cross display and expressed feelings of shock to her friend as soon as they saw the imposing Christian symbol. She has had unwelcome contact with the Bayview Cross approximately thirty times since….The giant cross in Bayview Park significantly impedes [her] use and enjoyment of the local park. Due to the presence of the Bayview Cross, and its enormous size, [she] finds it difficult, if not impossible, to fully enjoy the park.”

This account strains credulity. How in the world did she know that the Bayview Cross wasn’t erected on government leased land and was paid for by private sources? More important, would it have made any difference if it were privately owned and on leased land? After all, the “shock” at seeing an “enormous,” “imposing,” and “giant” cross would surely be enough to “significantly impede”—if not make it “impossible”—for her to enjoy the park.

It is obvious that militant atheists hate the sight of the cross. Nor can it be doubted that some vomit upon seeing it. They need help, but not the kind granted by the federal courts.

Judge Vinson knows the history of the First Amendment’s religious liberty provision well. Indeed, he cites Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story’s observation, made in his classic treatise on the Constitution in 1851, that the Founders believed that “Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State,” and that attempts to “level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.”

This is why Judge Vinson maintains that “the historical record indicates that the Founding Fathers did not intend for the Establishment Clause to ban crosses and religious symbols from public property.” Nonetheless, he feels constrained by more recent Supreme Court decisions. The problem here, as he readily acknowledges, is the lack of clarity coming from the high court.

Judge Vinson cites one important case, Lemon v. Kurtzman, as crafting a three-prong test to decide the constitutionality of religious liberty cases. He correctly notes that this 1971 decision has “not [been] consistently used.” In fact, he says the lower court rulings have been a “hodgepodge,” leading to much “confusion.” But because Lemon is still law, he says, “I am not free to ignore it.” He comes to this conclusion even after acknowledging, in a footnote, that Lemon “has occasionally been bypassed or ignored by the Supreme Court.”

Judge Vinson ends with a plea to the Supreme Court to “revisit and reconsider its Establishment Clause jurisprudence.” If it doesn’t, we will continue to see more phony cases brought by atheist Christian-hating activists feigning “shock” at seeing crosses in parks.


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William Donohue

William Donohue

William Donohue is the current president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in the United States, and has held that position since 1993.

7 thoughts on “Atheist Christian Haters Win In Court – OpEd

  • June 21, 2017 at 9:20 am
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    The over-the-top vitriol has no place in this debate. The court decision was based on past rulings that support the long-standing Jeffersonian principle of wall of separation between church and state. I guess Thomas Jefferson was just another “atheist Christian hater” in the eyes of Mr. Donahue.

    Reply
  • June 21, 2017 at 7:55 pm
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    Thank you for your article. It has motivated me to donate to the FRF.

    Reply
  • June 21, 2017 at 9:13 pm
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    “Nor can it be doubted that some vomit upon seeing it. ”

    While a symbol used in Christianity, the cross was and is a torture device. To see it displayed is like seeing a gas chamber, electric chair, or gallows being glorified. We protect children from violent images, the cross should be included.

    Reply
  • June 21, 2017 at 9:56 pm
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    Christian hating atheists, hmmmmmm……… Have any of you tried to exist as an atheist in the USA? There are far more atheist hating christians than the opposite, I assure you. The US constitution clearly states the separation between church and state. If their was a humanist monument in a park and a christian expressed the same shock would you treat it as justly? I think not. You would look for a legal team and mount a lawsuit against the “heathens” who erected it. So much hypocrisy its no wonder more and more people are finally smartening up and seeing religion for the fallacy that it is. Will take these small victories where we can!

    Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 1:19 am
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    What a nasty piece of op-ed, Mr. Donahue. Atheists should not hate Christians, but they certainly should disdain someone in a leadership role in the Catholic Church. What a ghastly institution your church has been throughout the world over the centuries. Of late, you hoard great works of art in Vatican City and still stand guilty of protecting pedophiles. No god ever inspired or directed these popes and cardinals, or he would have struck them down. Shame on you for not finding a real job.

    Jesus is purported to have said that it were better that a millstone be hung around the necks [of anyone who harms children] and they be cast into the sea. Sounds like he got that one right. Shame on you.

    Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 1:23 pm
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    The only problem is that by there being only the Latin Cross in the memorial, it makes christianity a protected class over all other religions. I suspect if that was a Star of David, or an Islamic Crescent you would be screaming for their removal. There are two choices, allow all religions to present their symbols, yes, including the Satanic Church as well as the Flying Spaghetti Monster. or none at all. You may place that cross anywhere you like, just not on publicly owned property. My tax dollars support that park, and I don’t want it. Your yard, fine, at your church, fine. Just not on my lawn.

    Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 2:34 pm
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    The FFRF is an organization that defends a separation of church and state. Many, including religious individuals, recognize that the only to truly have freedom of religion it to keep it and the government separate.

    The US was founded by individuals fleeing from a government imposed set of religious views and the founding fathers recognized that only a secular government would allow for religious freedom.

    How would the Christians complaining about the removal of the cross feel about a statue of Marduk or Shiva or maybe an inverted pentacle with a goat head? They would be cheering the removal if they even got a chance to be put in place.

    Conservative Christian denominations are becoming less of a majority so other groups are being able to challenge their control of social norms. It is often that it is an atheist group that makes the challenge because the nonbelievers see all religions on equal grounds and there are larger number of them that will fight on the basis of equality and not dogma so it is not hate but fairness that they are pushing for.

    Reply

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