THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a ruling in one of the big church-state cases heard by the Supreme Court this term. In Salazar v. Buono, the high court considered a congressionally approved deal that made the land surrounding a cross in the Mojave National Preserve private property. Five conservative justices approved.
A badly fractured Supreme Court, with six justices writing opinions, reopened the possibility on Wednesday that a large cross serving as a war memorial in a remote part of the Mojave Desert may be permitted to remain there.
The 5-to-4 decision provided an unusually vivid glimpse into how deeply divided the court is on the role religious symbols may play in public life and, in particular, the meanings conveyed by crosses in memorials for fallen soldiers.
In one of the oddities of the ruling, the court suggested that the Christian cross isn’t necessarily a symbol of Christianity.
In a dissent that effectively tore the majority to shreds, Justice John Paul Stevens strongly disagreed, “Making a plain, unadorned Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular. It makes the war memorial sectarian.” He added, in a dissent endorsed by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, “The cross is not a universal symbol of sacrifice. It is the symbol of one particular sacrifice, and that sacrifice carries deeply significant meaning for those who adhere to the Christian faith.”
Also from the God Machine this week:
* In his latest far-right move, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) reversed a standing policy and will now allow Virginia State Police troopers to refer to Jesus Christ in their public prayers. Chaplains have been offering nondenominational prayers at department-sanctioned public events, prompting outcries from evangelical activists. (Note to Virginians: electing a graduate of a radical TV preacher’s college may not have been a good idea.)
* Evangelist Franklin Graham’s record of bigotry led the Pentagon to rescind an invitation to participate in a National Day of Prayer event on May 6, but that didn’t stop Rep. Robert Aderholt (R) of Alabama from inviting Graham to participate in his Congressional Prayer Caucus event on the same day.
* The Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church has always published the far-right Washington Times newspaper, and kept the money-losing operation going for years. Now, Moon’s church has cut its $35 million annual subsidy, prompting executives to try to sell the paper.
* And this paragraph was one of my favorites of the week: “A group of evangelicals found some 4,800-year-old wood on top of Mount Ararat. They are ‘99.9 percent’ sure that it’s Noah’s ark. This is totally real, which is why it’s on the front page of Fox News’ ‘SciTech’ section.”
In case there’s any doubt, Gawker’s “totally real” reference was sarcastic. As for Fox News’ “SciTech” section, and its odd editorial judgment, I might recommend those interested in news related to science and technology to consider other news outlets.