Though it is suffering economically Woonsocket, Rhode Island is a beautiful city rich with history and pride. Every year since 1977 on Columbus Day weekend they hold Autumnfest, which entails carnival rides, art and craft booths, food, bands and a parade "which proceeds down Diamond Hill Road and Social Street to the World War II Veteran's Memorial State Park."
As is traditional in local parades, there are floats sponsored by various groups that comment on local stories and politics. This year, due to the controversy surrounding a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation concerning the constitutionality of a large Christian cross stranded in a fire station parking lot, no less than three different floats featured replicas supporting the cross.
It was reported to me by an attendee that, "These floats generated applause." Other applause getters in the parade were "the military folks marching," "general statements about 'in god we trust' on the money" and "how Woonsocket should just be left alone."
Other pictures of the parade, including pictures of the crosses below, can be seen here.
Above is the float built by the Knights of Columbus. They have been very active in promoting and defending the Woonsocket Cross, having previously attended the large rally organized by John DePetro in full regalia. Since the Catholic Church has taken a strong stand on a version of church/state separation that favors the rights of believers over secular concerns, their support is no surprise.
The other two floats in the parade are more problematic. Both celebrate the cross as a symbol of patriotism and the sacrifice made by veterans in defense of this country. Here we see the cross decorated with American flags and the other patriotic and military symbols.
The cross in this context dismisses the contributions of non-Christian soldiers and veterans, including atheists, Jews, Muslims, Pagans and even some Christian soldiers who don't feel that it is right to use cherished Christian symbols in a militarized or politicized way. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) has the Woonsocket Cross listed on their page entitled "Stolen Valor." From their site, because I can't really say it better:
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 specific privileges for Christians.
Maybe the cross is Constitutional and maybe it isn't. That's for the courts to decide if and when this issue gets that far. But those defending the presence of this cross should stop pretending that this is about appreciating the rights and sacrifices of veterans. This is about Christianity, and the special place of favor that belief holds in Woonsocket.
The real message of these floats is simple: If you are not the right kind of Christian, you are not an American.