On Veterans Day, a 13-foot cross was placed on top of a hill at Camp Pendleton in California. The Marines who put it there said they wanted to honor the memory of four comrades killed in Iraq and wanted to show respect for all military personnel who serve abroad. The Marines were actually replacing a cross originally erected in 2003, but that subsequently burned down in 2007. The four Marines honored helped raise the original cross in 2003.
Staff Sgt. Justin Rettenberger said the cross is dedicated to the memory of four Marines killed in battle. "We wanted them all to know that they’ll always be in our hearts, that they’ll never be forgotten," he said. "All great warriors."
It did not take long before opposition surfaced. That's right. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) said the cross is unconstitutional. In a blog post, the MAAF said "we still have continuing exploitation of military service and veterans to promote Christian privilege." The placement of the cross, the MAAF contends, "sends a message of exclusion rather than inclusion on this secular holiday."
The Constitution does not prohibit honoring fallen troops through the use of a historic symbol merely because that symbol also carries religious significance. In fact, the Constitution forbids excluding religion from every aspect of public life, precisely the goal of the MAAF and other atheist groups.
This latest flap comes just weeks after another atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), targeted for removal a war memorial - a statue of Jesus - placed on a Montana mountain nearly 60 years ago.
In the Camp Pendleton case, we have sent a letter to the Commanding Officer explaining in detail that crosses are used as a widespread and universal symbol of remembrance and do not violate the Establishment Clause. "Given the memorial's history and context, it is clear that it is not intended to proselytize for any faith," the letter states. "It is meant to honor and commemorate the sacrifice of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice."
In urging the Marines to keep the cross in place, our letter clearly puts this symbol into the proper perspective: "Crosses are an apt, appropriate, and constitutionally permissible means of honoring and commemorating the sacrifice of those who have given their life for their comrades and their country."
The outcry from the MAAF now has the Marines taking another look. A Marine spokesperson told ChristianPost.com that "Camp Pendleton legal authorities are researching and reviewing the issue in order to make a judicious decision."
We are hopeful the Marines won't be swayed by this atheist group and its flawed view of the Constitution. We urge the Marines to keep the cross in place. The display is not only appropriate, it is constitutional as well.