In Maryland, a high school Student objects to an assignment on the basic tenants of Islam. Her father claims that the School is violating the 1st Amendment, specifically in that it is forcing his daughter to profess Islam by learning about the Shahada, the 1st Pillar of the Islamic faith. The Father tells his daughter to refuse to do the assignment and he files suit against the school.
Once upon a time (1997), I went to Israel and the Temple Mount where I had the opportunity to visit the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque that is there. Several people in our group strenuously objected to going inside (they were not forced to do so) and they refused to go in. But they also made it clear to those of us who did go inside that we were somehow or another denying our faith and insulting G-d.
So which is it? Is a school lesson about the basic fundamentals of Islam as a part of a course on world History from 1500c.e. to the Present a violation of the establishment clause or is it just an academic exercise?
The Supreme Court will hear the Bladensburg Cross case after the 4th Circuit ruled that public expenditures used to maintain the monument violated the 1st Amendment prohibition against the establishment of religion by the Government. It is always a touchy subject, and the debates are always passionate. From Bladensburg to Texas to San Diego, the debate rages as to what exactly constitutes “establishment” and whether or not the long history of various monuments has any sway in the question of the monument’s status.
Like most things, it’s not as simple as it seems. Nor is the hyperbole – on both sides – helping to sort through the real issues.
So I went to san Diego on vacation, and I made certain that – after a little confusion with the GPS system – that I made it to see the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial.
After my visit, I would add the following to the Mt. Soledad conversation:
The Memorial itself is100% privately funded and maintained. That does not mean that there is no Government funding involved in the land itself, for example, roads, safety, patrolling, fire prevention/recovery, ect. But the actual memorial is privately funded by a non-profit funded by donations and sales of the plaques located on the Memorial.
The Cross is atop a staired pyramid above the actual “memorial” walls themselves. I noticed that while looking at the memorial walls, the cross was essentially invisible to my peripheral vision. That is not say that it isn’t there, but the way the monument is built, it is not the dominant feature WHILE you look at the wall.
The area atop Mt. Soledad is heavily populated and most definitely higher economic strata (including the Seuss House). It also has a long history of religious discrimination, specifically in that Jews were prohibited from purchasing homes in the area after the cross was originally erected in 1913. In other words, the original intention of the cross, named the “Easter Cross” when first erected, was to establish the site as a Christian shrine.
Original intent aside, the current feel of the memorial was not (to me) Christian. It was more about the Veterans – of which I am one – and in that vein it felt like sacred ground dedicated to veterans dating back to the Revolution. I found one plaque for a Veteran of the Spanish-American War, and for the WWII Submarine Service.
While there is sign claiming that the memorial is solely owned by the Memorial Association, that is unclear from the Court cases. It remains apparent to me that the federal government, via eminent domain – remains the title holder on the land.
My conclusion is that IF the government is spending no money on the memorial, then a better solution to the issue would be to lease the land to the memorial foundation for a reasonable cost. That would remove the direct government involvement – at whatever level it currently is – and allow the Memorial Association to operate as they currently are doing.