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Church and State Separation Issues Strike Holmen and the Cross on Star Hill

The national issue about religious icons (read: Christian symbols) on public land has struck very close to home. This link will give some background to the whole affair but there are a few other things of note which perhaps in due time I will speak to. I have strong feelings about such issues and have spoken about other areas. It doesn’t make sense not to chronicle the situation and opine on it on my own blog since I actually live in the vicinity of the offending cross. So here goes.

As the article explains, in a purchase for other purposes, the village of Holmen also acquired a cross positioned prominently on the same property, visible in many directions. Now, after decades of being a non-issue, after it was learned that it was now on public land, a certain Eric Barnes became offended and lodged an unofficial complaint. The village of Holmen plans to resolve the issue the same way that La Crosse (about 15 minutes away) did just a few years back: sell the land to a private entity which would then maintain the cross.

Honestly, I don’t have strong feelings about that cross being there, but I do have strong feelings about a single person having the capacity to make a whole community abide his thin-skinned whims. Skeptics and atheists wonder why they are not taken all too seriously by the Christian community and are offended when Christians don’t exhibit undying patience to atheistic demands. This is a case in point. It is extremely difficult to understand how a cross which was on a hill for decades caused no mental harm but the innocent transfer to public ownership now makes it a traumatic affair. One is left wondering if the cross had offended the individual(s) the whole time but only now can they do something about it.

That leads to the obvious concern that perhaps if they could get away with it they’d force all religious symbols out of public sight, and groups going by the name of ‘Freedom from Religion Foundation’ rather than, ‘Freedom from Religion in Public Venues Foundation’ would seem to suggest that they won’t actually be satisfied unless they have a complete purge.

What is at issue, of course, is the first amendment, the relevant portion of which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

It says a lot about how bad literacy and interpretation has gotten over the last hundred years that by ‘Congress’ something like ‘Village of Holmen’ could be considered in the same class of things. However, if that bad reading (which in some measure has become the law of the land) applies, it should follow that just as the Congress/Village of Holmen can’t make a law respecting an establishment of religion, nor can it prohibit the free exercise of religion. Thus, a removal of the cross is actually a prohibition of the free exercise of religion.

Atheists (and some writing letters to the editor in local papers) consider the cross as obviously ‘prosyletizing’ and therefore a clear violation of an ‘establishment of religion.’ The notion that a cross on a hill, first on private land for 40 years and then on public land for just a couple of years, is evangelism and an establishment of religion is something that many people find positively absurd. It is not that people (like myself) necessarily feel compelled to defend the display of a cross at all costs, but rather we feel that people with silly and petty sensitivities should not be permitted to have their pet interpretations (eg, cross on hill=establishment of religion) carry the day.

As far as I’m concerned, I will argue that the Village of Holmen should not sell off this piece of land- at least not without a vote from the citizens of Holmen. Put the matter to a vote. If the majority says keep it, and the cross, then let it be a lesson to the minority in how democracies ought to work. If the minority makes compelling arguments and becomes the majority, great! That’s how democracies ought to work. And if it is decided that the cross ought to stay, let the ‘Freedom from Religion Expressed in Public Venue Foundation’ sue yet again.

Let’s handle the matter once and for all so that communities don’t have to continue to be enslaved to the tyranny of the minority. Push it to the Supreme Court and demand that they stop dancing around the matter and really issue some definitive statements on the matter.

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11 Responses to Church and State Separation Issues Strike Holmen and the Cross on Star Hill

  1. In my opinion you seem to have things backward. We are talking here about tyranny of the majority over the minority. As our country continues to grow more and more religiously diverse, separation of church/state becomes ever more important.

  2. You are welcome to your concern but in my opinion you are wrong. It is not a tyranny of the majority provided that there are restraints built into the system. There are restraints built into the systems and a process by which the minority can exert its rights even to the extent that the minority could become the majority. There is, for example, one well known concept that springs to mind immediately in cases other than this one: if you don’t like something, work to change it via a vote.

    Enforcing your view by one man appealing to a small panel of judges and relying on one particular favored interpretation is a tyranny of a minority. If we do not think that the first amendment is up to the task then we should work to change the amendment.

  3. […] Read about it here. […]

  4. We will have to agree to disagree on this matter. (smile) Although we are a nation of mostly Christians, we are not a “Christian Nation.” The First Amendment to our Constitution tells me that government should stay neutral on religion – ALL religions (or none) not just the Christian faith. To me, that is what religious freedom means. Many, many of the original colonists came here to escape the tyranny of the Anglican Church.

  5. Hi Louis,

    I have no interest in defending the assertion that we are a ‘Christian Nation.’ I don’t think I said that. I definitely agree that religious freedom was an important component to the formation of this country.

    The issue here has to do a bit with your notion of ‘staying neutral.’ It is extremely difficult to see how a cross on a hill constitutes an ‘establishment of religion’ which is one reason why people (like myself) are annoyed by this situation. That the Holmen cross could possibly be construed as such an establishment seems petty and grasping, to say the least.

    Your historical example also fails to note that the first amendment doesn’t insist on remaining neutral. It prohibits legislation respecting the establishment of religion but that also extends to allowing the free exercise of religion.

    Also, the first amendment was written with the Federal government in mind, which is why virtually every state constitution included ‘religious-speak.’ That ‘congress’ in “Congress shall make no…” could relate to the state government, and furthermore to a local village, is an innovation of just the last century.

    You need to understand where I am coming from. It is very simple. It is this: if you have a problem with something, solve it by a vote. If you think the first amendment is not up to the task, work to change it. Don’t interpret it willy-nilly as it suits one’s purposes. As a citizen, not as a Christian, I insist.

  6. Hello again Anthony (I refuse to call you Sntjohnny as I find it somewhat pretentious, not to mention egocentric).

    I have NOT formed my church/state views through my own interpretation as you suggest. Yes, I have read the propaganda from both the left and right of the political spectrum, and recognize it as such, and still felt somewhat lost on the issue until I read a book called “Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State: Writings on Religion and Secularism” edited by Lenni Brenner. Brenner has gathered all known letters of these two founding fathers written on religion and secularism with only a small amount of editorializing that can be skipped. I wish you would read these letters – I certainly won’t INSIST as I find that somewhat rude. After reading these first source materials (straight from the horses mouth), I came away convinced that both Madison and Jefferson advocated complete separation of church and state. In addition, I came to realize that it is not a left/right argument. Since Madison is the “Father of our glorious SECULAR Constitution” and the First Amendment is patterned after Jefferson’s Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, I can come up with no other conclusion.

    Until the politically conservative “Reagan Revolution” most Christians had no problem with complete separation. Even the boneheads of the Southern Baptist Convention, who seem to believe that the earth is flat, 6000 years old, and everything revolves around it in spite of the scientific evidence, USED to believe in separation of church/state. To the best of my knowledge, it is still in their bylaws. These letters might give you a different perspective. As far as voting for changing the Constitution – I don’t feel it is necessary as it has served us well for quite a few years now. There used to be very little controversy about church/state relations until the Religious Right started their re-writing of history to make us into a “Christian Nation.”

    Louis

  7. […] Church and State Separation Issues Strike Holmen and the Cross on Star Hill […]

  8. “Hello again Anthony (I refuse to call you Sntjohnny as I find it somewhat pretentious, not to mention egocentric).”

    Thanks for filling me in on that entirely meaningless musing. (As you are completely ignorant as to what ‘sntjohnny’ is signifying and you are a complete stranger to me, you won’t mind if I utterly and completely do not care what you think about it)

    “I have NOT formed my church/state views through my own interpretation as you suggest.”

    I suggest no such thing. I was speaking generally. I don’t know you from Adam. Nor do you know me.

    “I wish you would read these letters – I certainly won’t INSIST as I find that somewhat rude.”

    No, of course not. You are clearly above being rude.

    “After reading these first source materials (straight from the horses mouth), I came away convinced that both Madison and Jefferson advocated complete separation of church and state.”

    So? They are just two men out of a great many. There are other first source materials available that show the other side.

    “Until the politically conservative “Reagan Revolution” most Christians had no problem with complete separation.”

    I don’t think that’s true at all. The Supreme Court law regarding prayer in school was long before the ‘Reagan revolution.’ Also it is worth pointing out that the Reagan revolution came after Roe vs Wade which many Christians feel is an outgrowth of secular thinking. Also, prior to the 70s and such, there were plenty of laws all over the country forbidding sales of alcohol on Sundays, the so called ‘Blue Laws.’ Clearly, this is before Reagan and clearly the Blue Laws don’t represent a separation at all.

    “Even the boneheads of the Southern Baptist Convention,”

    See, you ain’t rude one bit.

    “There used to be very little controversy about church/state relations until the Religious Right started their re-writing of history to make us into a “Christian Nation.””

    I already said that I have no desire to argue that we are a ‘Christian Nation’ or even that we were. However, I just gave three examples of pre-Religious Right church/state relation issues. Maybe Roe vs Wade is a stretch but certainly the Blue Laws and the Murray v. Curlett decision all pre-date the Reagan revolution.

    I’d be careful in making accusations about re-writing history if you’re going to engage in the practice yourself. A balanced treatment will show that it has always been an issue in our country and that for more than a hundred years religious expression was common, even in the public square, even in the government. Decry it if you like, but don’t deny it wasn’t even there.

  9. I respectfully give up (smile). It is obvious that your views are unchangeable as probably mine are as well. My world view is informed by science and reason, not ancient mythology. Have a nice life.

    Louis

  10. It is worth mentioning, too, that the first amendment is in the Federal bill of rights. The Bill of Rights was not considered applicable to the states, at least not on a one to one correlation, until after the passing of the 14th amendment in the mid to late 1800s. Then, it wasn’t even instant. Each amendment had to be incorporated, that is, affirmed by the Supreme Court as applying to the states by virtue of the 14th. The Supreme Court did not incorporate the relative portions of the 1st Amendment until the 1940s. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorporation_(Bill_of_Rights)#Amendment_I

    In light of the fact that the first amendment wasn’t construed as applying to the states until the 1940s and only then by virtue of the passing of the 14th amendment, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to argue that any of the framers of the constitution really did intend for the language ‘Congress’ to refer also to the tiniest villa and township of the United States.

    In my view, the Bill of Rights needed no such incorporation. For example, the first amendment specifically precludes ‘Congress’ for a reason, whereas the right to assembly has no modifier, and thus ought to apply across the board under both state and Federal law.

  11. “I respectfully give up (smile). It is obvious that your views are unchangeable as probably mine are as well. My world view is informed by science and reason, not ancient mythology. Have a nice life.”

    Oh goodness gracious. You say that as though it were self-evident that an ancient mythology can’t also be scientific and reasonable. If in fact a particular ancient mythology were actually true, then it would be scientific and reasonable to incorporate that into their world view. It would follow then that you would not be behaving scientifically or reasonably if you discounted that true ‘mythology.’

    Clearly, the salient point is to first determine that ‘ancient mythology’ is true or not. I do hope that you are not in the “If something is old it can’t be true” camp or the “There is no God so miracles can’t happen” camp. 😉

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