Monday, July 31, 2006
If the votes in the Senate go as expected next month, on the peak of Mount Soledad in the City of San Diego there will be a spot of land topped by a twenty eight foot Cross that will be guarded by American soldiers. On this site there may be services given by military chaplains, that will extol and proselytize the religion symbolized by that cross. This will be a benchmark in the transformation of this secular country into a Christian nation.
There are two bills that are making this happen, the first, H.R. 5683, to federalize this land and put it under control of the defense department passed the house last week and will be voted on by the Senate in the next couple of weeks. This was not a partisan bill, as over a hundred Democrats in the House voted for it, (Link to the bill lists them) and many Democratic Senators, including my two from California support it.
The second is a regulation to allow evangelical Chaplains to proselytize anytime, anyplace, even to audiences that are compelled to attend. This was inserted by the House in the Defense appropriations bill, that has just been approved by the Senate committee. Having heard nothing about any Senator taking a stand, I can only assume it is in the Senate version also.
That's the short of it. The rest of this diary is my essay on the meaning of the Mt. Soledad Cross. You can read more about the chaplain regulation here. There's a poll with this diary, that just could send a message to some wavering Senators
Perhaps It was an accident of history that those who wrote our Constitution knew that future leaders would be tempted to harness religion to amass personal power. Many of their forebears had come to this untamed land to escape religious persecution, not by heathens, not by moors, but by other Christians. The founders of our country were not only scholars, steeped in history, law and yes, religion; they were masters of the written word. In our constitution profound principles are routinely encapsulated in few words. They wrote, as the first words of the first amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof."
All they could hope was that future generations would get it, that their political leaders would understand how the melding of religion with politics would ultimately be incompatible with liberty. They could only hope that future law makers would continue the spirit of enlightenment that defined their own times.
When George Washington wrote in the treaty Tripoli, " the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion " it was not a radical statement. Rather, it was what he knew his colleagues had sought to create, a nation with no entity on a higher plane than the sovereign citizens; where all religions, all visions of existence were protected, a secular government designed to protect a cauldron of diverse belief ideas and expression. And for centuries this ideal has endured.
It is the United States of America with this secular constitution that has nurtured the greatest numbers of citizens with a belief in God and the widest array of religions of all industrialized countries. But there was always the temptation of the power that would accrue to the person, or party, that tapped the passions of the majority religion, Christianity.
But since Christianity in all its forms was thriving, the only way to do this was to create an enemy, one that was so offensive, so threatening, that they could be the focus of hatred that would unite all of the diverse branches of the religion. And since this secular government had fostered such an acceptance of religion, the great irony is that this created enemy of religion was of the orientation most committed to the secular government that had nurtured the unfettered growth of religion, atheism.
Since our beginning there has always been skirmishes along the border between church and state. The key constitutional phrase actually creates the inherent tension, as unlimited "free expression" by a dominant religion with a the goal of universal conversion would lead to the very "establishment" of this religion that is proscribed.
One bright line rule has been that public property such as schools and memorials must be religiously neutral. This is not to be found in the Constitution, yet generations of Justices have seen this as flowing from the simple words that were written. Whenever there was a breach of this rule, it was up to individuals to use the courts to enforce it. So Congress passed a law that would compensate the legal expenses of those who enforce this constitutional principle. In 1989 a clear breach of this was evident in the Cross on the top of Mount Soledad on property owned by the city of San Diego.
It happened to be that the individual who challenged this illegal act was an atheist. It did not matter at all that his position was affirmed by several state and federal courts as being mandated by our constitution, the very document that has allowed religion to prosper. Each time a court confirmed the principle that he had sued to enforce, he was further vilified, he was labeled "Atheist" Philip Paulson. While a political leader who was true to the principles of our country could have accepted the decision and designed a different memorial that would have transcended sectarian identification, there were more tempting options.
It was so much more opportune to ratchet up the hate, and to defy the unanimous decision of a total of 44 federal district and appellate judges that supported the secular principles of our government. Removal of the cross was transformed into an attack on Christianity itself. And what a way to get the public's attention away from other activities, such as the city of San Diego promising pensions that were impossible to pay for. "Who will notice our bankrupting the city, when we are defending of the holy cross of our Savior against atheism?"
Seventeen years after the original law suit, we are entering a new and more momentous chapter. This time it is not a corrupt city that is trying to change the subject, rather it is our national government. Five years into the war against terror, the middle east in aflame, with war among countries and sects made more deadly by religious hatred. Two avowed national enemies are developing a nuclear capacity that our weakened diplomatic position and over extended military leaves us unable to address. With these daunting international issues, and a host of domestic challenges of equal moment, our political leaders desperately need an enemy that they can vanquish, an evil to prevail against, a piece of land that can be captured and occupied. And they have located it right in San Diego, on the summit of Mount Soledad.
The bill, H.R. 5683, just passed by the House of Representatives is just such a an operation. It will transfer the peak at Mount Soledad with its Cross to the federal government. After this conquest is achieved, with only token resistance by those whose only weapon is a now outdated copy of a document beginning, "We the people...." the occupation will be under control of the Secretary of Defense. This dovetails with another bill recently passed by the House, against the recommendation of the heads of the chaplain leadership, that would allow evangelical chaplains to proselytize in any venue, any time that they sees fit, including compulsory assemblages of troops.
When President Bush referred several times to our war on terror as a Crusade, he said it was a slip of the tongue, or a misconstrued figure of speech. With the signing of these two laws, and the possible affirmation by a newly constituted Supreme court, there will be no more illusions. Oh, the domestic cheerleaders on talk radio and cable news may manage to spin this transformation of our country into a victory against rampant atheism, but the rest of the world will know better. Our great nation, long the model of freedom, with acceptance of all beliefs, all religions, all views life, will begin to fade into history. We will have been transformed into just another country dominated and defined by its religious majority.If this bill to federalize Mount Soledad, or other ploys being contemplated to break the secular essence of this country succeeds, those who demanded "saving the cross" should enjoy their moment of victory. The great loss of a principle that has made our nation a beacon to the world will be felt for generations to come.