Joseph Ianfranco and Byron Babione's recent post at the American Spectator, "Atheists Attack 9/11 Cross," deserves some comment, as it instantiates a troubling bit of doublethink when it comes to defending state-sponsored religious symbolism. On the one hand, there is the line that these symbols are representative of the religion of the society, and so what's wrong with a democracy that reflects the religious views of the majority? On the other hand, there is the line that recognizes the necessity of restraint, but also holds that using the specific symbols in question doesn't amount to government endorsement of any particular religion. The trouble is that you can't have both.
They run their first line of argument by quoting the majority (with Kennedy as the lead writer) in the SCOTUS Salazar v Bruno case regarding a giant cross erected in the Mojave desert:
The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society.
That's fine, but the key is that using that symbolism for lots of people's acts displays those people's acts in the light of those religious stories. There's having holidays on days that people of the dominant religion will likely take off, then there's using their symbols to invoke public virtues. This puts too much stress on the establishment issue, so defenders of religious symbolism then demur that the symbolism is all that religious to begin with.
Who drives by such a cross and immediately sees an "establishment of Christianity" instead of a memorial? Not most Americans, 72 percent of whom favor inclusion of the 9/11 cross at the New York memorial and see no constitutional violation.
Huh. That's funny, as invoking the opinions of the majority of people won't save the case that is the tyranny of the majority. As if the issue was settled as follows: You say this is the majority overreaching its bounds? Well, 75% of the people we polled say this is just fine with them!
But the deeper issue is the strange cultural blindness that Christian monoculture imbues people with. The state erecting a giant cross doesn't look in the least like an endorsement of Christianity, because crosses just mean piety and holiness and such. That's just what crosses mean, right? It seems reminiscent of the Wittgenstein joke about the Frenchman who said that French is the best language, because the words come out in the order that you think them.