This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in the Baptist Message on July 12, 2019.
All across our country, we have memorials and monuments to remind us of great people who did courageous things. Some of these memorials and monuments are under attack simply because they happen to reflect what I believe and what all of you believe: God exists.
On Sept. 18, 1919, the mother of a fallen WWI soldier led the groundbreaking ceremony for one of these monuments—the Bladensburg “Peace Cross.” The cross serves as a symbolic grave for 49 local men who died in World War I.
That monument has stood for 100 years, but a recent lawsuit nearly brought it down simply because it is shaped like the cross on which Jesus died.
A liberal group, the American Humanist Association, filed a complaint in 2012 claiming the Bladensburg cross violated the First Amendment because it was a religious symbol – more specifically, a Christian symbol – on public land. The case eventually wound up before the United States Supreme Court.
The left’s argument was both absurd and offensive. That is why I joined a group of 109 members of Congress last August in submitting a letter — called an amicus brief — to the Supreme Court saying that the cross should stand. The First Amendment prevents Congress from establishing a religion but also discourages hostility towards a particular religion.
On June 20, the Supreme Court justices ruled 7-2 that the cross could stand. The result was a triumph for religious freedom.
As Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote, the First Amendment embodies respect and tolerance. It doesn’t embody religious hostility.
The Bladensburg Cross is a monument that honors the lives of WWI veterans who never returned home. It united a grieving community and became a landmark. Tearing it down would diminish the sacrifices those men made. It also would launch attacks on other historic monuments.
The cross is reminiscent of the wooden crosses marking the graves of American soldiers in Europe and the crosses etched in the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. I can only assume, if given half the chance, this group would also have these symbols removed.
An unfavorable ruling could have unleashed an army of anti-religious groups intent on obliterating the very mention of God from our nation’s monuments. Our Founding Fathers encouraged us to be tolerant of a variety of views; the left preaches its own distorted view of “tolerance.” They are breathless in their quest to make “God” a taboo word in this country. How is that respectful? How is that tolerant?
The First Amendment was written to encourage religious expression and support religious tolerance, not wipe religion away entirely. This case sends a clear message: No group has the power to remove every wisp or shadow of religion from the public sphere.
Tearing down a 100-year-old cross would be an expression of religious hostility that has no place in America. It would be a slap in the face to our veterans, the families of the deceased and everyone who holds our monuments as sacred.
I am proud to live in a country where we respect all religions, where we honor our veterans and where a monument of a cross is protected by the U.S. Constitution. I know you are as well.