|This cross sends the wrong message...|
A couple of things spring to mind as I consider a picture taken yesterday (August 29th) at the WWII Memorial State Park in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The park, located on Social St., is maintained by the State of Rhode Island, not the City of Woonsocket, and was dedicated in 1977. Now if you look closely at the middle of the picture, you will see sculpture, a make-shift wooden cross supported by a small pile of rocks. The sculpture is technically graffiti, in the sense that it is a temporary art installation by an artist not officially sanctioned by the park. Since graffiti often has a political point to make, the timing and location of the piece is obviously meant to show some kind of support for the larger cross currently sitting on Woonsocket City property at Jolicouer Place, the cross at the center of the city's dispute with the FFRF.
But here's the thing: The use of the cross in this fashion, divorced as it is from government sanction, is fine by me. This is a public park, meant to be enjoyed by all. If a citizen wants to construct little, temporary sculptures from bits of wood and stones, that's great. However, if another citizen comes by and kicks that temporary sculpture over, or takes it apart to build a different temporary sculpture of their own, no one has any right to complain, and the government must certainly not involve itself in protecting or making permanent such displays.
No, the problem is that the use of the cross in this fashion shows deep disrespect to those of the Christian faith. This point was brought home to me a while back when my friend Donald Anderson, a Baptist Minister who heads up the Rhode Island Council of Churches told me that he takes the symbolism of the cross very seriously, as his religion dictates, and that the treatment of this symbol in so cavalier a fashion demonstrates a lack of respect for his beliefs. You can hear Don talk about his reaction to the use of crosses in this fashion in this YouTube video, at the 27 minute mark.
But there's more to it than that. It's not just Christians being insulted by the use of the cross in this way, it's veterans as well. Jason Torpy, my friend who runs the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers has a page on his website called Stolen Valor- Military Service Exploited for Religion in Government. From the site:
Those who have died for our country are rolling in their graves that their service should be used to justify Christian privilege and the suggestion that the Christian cross is the symbol for patriotism and service to the nation. This is a case of stolen valor when the service of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and others are gathered to defend special privileges for Christians.
|Dedicated to ALL veterans.|
I look at the monument in the WWII Memorial State Park in Woonsocket and even though I know that the majority of war dead memorialized by that carefully crafted piece of stone were Christian, a significant minority of them were not. Of those who were Christian, a significant portion would have opposed mixing church and state to erect special symbols important only to one specific religious belief. Some Christian veterans believe placing crosses on public land to be unpatriotic at best and un-American at worst.
The reduction of the cross, with its deep cultural history and mythic resonance, to clumsy graffiti with a message that serves only to insult the Christians and veterans it attempts to honor should be a source of consternation to everyone. Though as I pointed out, the action itself is not illegal, it can certainly be considered to be in bad taste.