In 2005, fundamentalist Christians were outgraged at the inauguration of George W. Bush as President. No, they weren’t upset at George W. Bush himself, who was the president most friendly to religious fundamentalism (as long as it was Christian) in memory. But they were mightily upset at the U.S. Secret Service, which issued a letter shortly before Bush’s second inauguration that prohibited crosses from the inaugural parade route.
The Christian Defense Coalition and Earned Media (to become the Christian News Wire) protested with vehemence when the Secret Service emerged with the following declaration:
…the prohibition on structures includes props, folding chairs, bicycles, displays such as puppets, paper mache objects, coffins, crates, crosses, theaters, cages and statues….
How dare the U.S. Government specifically prohibit crosses from a political event, asked the Christian Defense Coalition’s Patrick Mahoney, who said the Secret Service’s memo “trampled the First Amendment and crushed religious freedom in the public square. Simply put, it is religious bigotry and censorship. It is even more troubling when one realizes that it is only Christian symbols that have been excluded from the inauguration parade.” Mahoney continued: “This amounts to religious and viewpoint discrimination. It is very troubling for federal law enforcement to suggest the somehow a cross presents a greater danger to national security than other religious symbols.”
The same fundamentalist Christian groups should be getting upset again, considering that despite the threat of a lawsuit against the Secret Service last time around, the Secret Service has gone ahead and issued exactly the same language again. As the Secret Service permit letters go out to DC demonstrators, I’m looking for some sort of incensed declaration from Christian activists soon.
I believe the Christian Defense Coalition and the Christian News Wire are right to be upset with such language, because it does single out crosses for prohibition and does so unnecessarily. If the problem is that crosses tend to be big and made of wood, then why not just prohibit big wood things? If the prohibition is against crosses, why is there no prohibition of large menorahs or crescents? The Secret Service is a government agency, and it creates the appearance of using its power to, as Patrick Mahoney points out, single out one religious group for exclusion.
The problem with the position of the Christian Defense Coalition and the Christian News Wire is not its substance, but rather its context. Both groups have a history of trying to get the government to do exactly that which they complain about. The Christian Defense Coalition worked to have schools include religious language at the beginning of every school day, excluding polytheism, animism and atheist viewpoints. Mahoney and the CDC also tried to use the federal courts to force Christian prayers into public school athletics, and they declare American law to be uniquely Christian. The Christian News Wire has repeatedly called for Christian, and only Christian, religious displays to be erected in government space… and has complained noisily when atheists reacting to a government-sponsored Christian nativity display successfully demanded space for an atheist statement as well. Their position? How dare the atheists be given space? Government space is only for Christians! No, the Christian Defense Coalition and Christian News Wire should not be mistaken as crusaders for freedom. They’re only interested in the freedom of Christians to negate the freedom of others.
On the other hand, there are some pretty interesting reactions to the 2005 Secret Service kerfuffle at the American Constitution Society and in the “freethinking” Randi forum. Defense for Christians’ right of self-expression there is mixed at best.
Do we have to be a nation of bigots, supporting freedom for me but not for thee? How about a little freedom for me and thee?