True tolerance goes all ways

Published 7:45 am Monday, July 19, 2010

I read a sign in Yosemite National Park that advises visitors there are several sites that have been designated sacred.” This is to say some American Indians attach religious significance to a plot of ground. For this reason, the sign further warns, it is an offense to “desecrate” the spot. Then it lists a number of things most park visitors would otherwise do but are thereby prohibited from doing. OK, I stay clear; no problem.

Yet there is a problem, albeit different. Less than 300 miles away, also in California and also under the authority of the National Park Service, is a wood cross that courts have ruled is a violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Now, I don’t think either the Indian sacred ground or the cross amount to government establishment of a religion. (Religious establishment is something entirely different.)

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But if the federal government can constitutionally prohibit citizens from entering Indian sacred ground, why can it not constitutionally allow a simple cross to do nothing but also stand on federal property? The answer is not the provisions and prohibitions of the U.S. Constitution but political correctness—which is political rather than moral and correct rather than right.

In regard to the Indian sacred ground, the federal government is telling citizens who own the ground and pay taxes to maintain it something they may not do. It is a restriction on freedom of action. It can even be argued this is a violation of freedom of thought because it forces non-Indians to accept a belief that is alien to them. I don’t buy this latter, but it is also the argument often used against crosses.

Again, I’m not objecting to this much, but to what is actually discrimination. The Constitution grants “equal protection under the law” to everyone. Yet, in the PC dictionary discrimination can only be exercised against favored minorities; when the same action is taken in regard to members of the majority, it doesn’t count as discrimination. By the same token, minority members cannot by definition be guilty of discrimination; when they do the same thing it isn’t considered discrimination.

I see a far stronger case for allowing at least this cross. It was placed after World War I on Sunrise Rock by a private, secular veterans group to memorialize their comrades killed in battle. They simply used a symbol commonly associated with cemeteries and other memorials for the dead. It has been allowed to stand for over 90 years. It was unused public land when erected, and later the federal government conveyed a tiny plot to private ownership so it no longer would be standing on federal land. This simple and reasonable adjustment hasn’t been allowed to resolve the  conflict.

So several lower courts ordered it removed, and the U.S. Supreme Court has but returned the law suit for reconsideration by the lower courts.

In tolerating the cross (and isn’t toleration one of those PC values?), the federal government places no restrictions on citizens, as it does with the sacred grounds. The presence of the cross suggests nothing about citizens’ religious beliefs because it’s not there as a religious symbol, whereas restricting access to sacred ground can be taken subjectively as forced acceptance of a belief.

If the presence of the cross violates the establishment clause, then designation of Indian sacred ground does also. If sacred grounds can be tolerated, so can this particular cross.

Our governmental agencies, legislative bodies, courts, and the public need to use common sense and be reasonable in tolerating symbols politically twisted to appear controversial.