NPR logo Scalia's Stance That Cross Honors All Dead Strains Belief


Scalia's Stance That Cross Honors All Dead Strains Belief

There was a moment during Supreme Court oral arguments Wednesday in the case involving a cross in the Mojave National Preserve sure to add to Justice Antonin Scalia's reputation as one of the fiercest advocates for a certain world view to sit on the court in recent memory.

Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday made the controversial argument that the Christian cross honors all war dead. Charles Dharapak/AP Photo hide caption

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Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

Scalia got into a heated disagreement with an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer over whether the Christian cross is a religious symbol specific to a particular religion.

It would seem like an odd thing to argue about since it's doubtful anyone thinks of Islam or Judaism when he or she sees a cross.

But Scalia clearly holds a different view.

JUSTICE SCALIA: The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war? Is that — is that —

MR. ELIASBERG: I believe that's actually correct.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Where does it say that?

MR. ELIASBERG: It doesn't say that, but a cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins, and I believe that's why the Jewish war veterans —

JUSTICE SCALIA: It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It's the — the cross is the — is the most common symbol of — of — of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn't seem to me — what would you have them erect? A cross — some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?

MR. ELIASBERG: Well, Justice Scalia, if I may go to your first point. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew.


MR. ELIASBERG: So it is the most common symbol to honor Christians.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion.

MR. ELIASBERG: Well, my — the point of my — point here is to say that there is a reason the Jewish war veterans came in and said we don't feel honored by this cross. This cross can't honor us because it is a religious symbol of another religion.

Unfortunately, Chief Justice John Roberts cut in to end the argument. It would have been fascinating to see where Scalia would have would up. If the cross is a generic symbol to honor the dead, then why not argue it's so neutral a symbol that it could be placed on non-Christian houses of worship? It's obvious that would never fly. Still, that didn't stop Scalia from making his argument.

Some observers believe Scalia's real aim is to de-Christianize the cross and, by doing so, weaken the argument of those opposed to its exclusive placement on government property.

A Los Angeles Times excerpt:

After the arguments, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called Scalia's comments "shocking" and "outrageous."

"He actually said that this cross represents all veterans, even those who are not Christian," Lynn said. "Is Scalia seriously arguing that the cross is no longer a religious symbol? Now that is an outrageous conclusion."