Yes. It is absolutely a religious symbol. I doubt most Europeans would care about it...but they are mostly secular societies (though lets put Ireland, Poland, Russia, Serbia to the side) and there is usually a clear division between historical/cultural/artefacts/ruins/links and in your face religion. These things are integral part of local cultures even for atheists or non-religious and unless they are clearly built for the purpose of advancing religion...there would be extreme resistance to taking it down...from everyone.
I would be extremely irritated by this if I were in the United States though because it seems to me, for the most part, that these monuments and statues and plaques and what not are created and placed to affirm religion, institutionalise religion, normalise religion and it's astounding this still happens considering the first amendment. I totally support the AHA's petition.
I'm as far from being a legal expert, about as far as I am from being a neuroscientist. I am also strongly opposed, vehemently opposed, to being forced to participate in religion. I do have some non-politically correct atheist thoughts about this, however.
First, does having a gigantic cross in view, force me to participate in religion? Does having a church in view, or having religious bullshit on the airwaves? To my mind, just seeing it does not mean I have to participate. Lets say someone is wearing a burka on the street. Does that mean that just by seeing her, I'm participating in her religion? I don't think that either.
What does the constitution actually say? Wikipedia - "The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights." further down in the wikipedia article, "The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another . . . in the words of Jefferson, the [First Amendment] clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and State' . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach." (note, I use italics to show I'm quoting, not to emphasize a point)
That part about "ensuring there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion" could be interpreted, by some, to mean you CAN have crosses, and also spaghetti statues, Baphomet, Cthulu, Quetzalcoatl, Priapus, and any other on public lands. If those are prohibited, then the same rules should apply to a cross, because to do otherwise means we are interpreting the same constitutional amendment in opposite directions for different religions.
The trouble for me is, it's up to interpretation. An unimpregnable wall of separation between church and state, by itself, seems to be an expansion of the idea that the govt will not establish a religion. The constitution does not say, per se, that the government can't allow religious statues on government lands. Otherwise, would we have to erase every cross from every Veteran's cemetery? Can we not allow people to have religious bumper stickers on their cars promoting religion on government built highways? Not allow religious garb on public sidewalks, like priest clothes, burkas, and pirate gear? I don't know the answer. I plead guilty to Reductio ad absurdum there, but where do we draw the line?
I have one other point, which is where should we concentrate our efforts. Resources are limited, and there can be pushback if we push too hard and to quickly. An argument could be made that some of the vehemence against liberal social justice is so strong because of reaction to how fast, passionate, divisive, and judgemental some of the social justice promoters have been. As part of the divisive atmosphere, that could have pushed a few people over to voting reactionary, and it only took a few votes in the right - or wrong- places to give us a new and frightening right wing paradigm in US politics. We can say similar things about Europe, where reactionary politics seems to be on a rise, and it's pretty scary for many. Maybe better not to concentrate on the most hallowed signs and symbols, even if we find them irritating, if doing so pushes potential allies to become enemies. Compromise is valuable, even if it gives no one what they really want.
I do find that cross annoying.
"I plead guilty to Reductio ad absurdum there"
Yep, you're guilty.
Some Supreme Court Rulings:
Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU (1989)
A nativity scene with the words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” meaning “Glory to God in the Highest,” placed alone on the grand staircase of a courthouse endorsed religion and violated the Establishment Clause.
Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board v. Pinette (1995)
A cross placed by a private group in a traditional public forum adjoining the state house did not violate the Establishment Clause, as the space was open to all on equal terms.
Van Orden v. Perry (2005)
A six-foot monument displaying the Ten Commandments donated by a private group and placed with other monuments next to the Texas State Capitol had a secular purpose and would not lead an observer to conclude that the state endorsed the religious message, and therefore did not violate the Establishment Clause.
McCreary County v. ACLU (2005)
Two large, framed copies of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses lacked a secular purpose and were not religiously neutral, and therefore violated the Establishment Clause.
These next two are interesting (I guess it depends on when and why you get HIGH. :D:
Employment Division v. Smith (1990)
Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to someone fired from a job for illegally smoking peyote during a religious ceremony. The Free Exercise Clause does not excuse people from obeying the law.
Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (2006)
The courts ruled unanimously in favor of a small religious group who had argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 required that they be free to use hoasca—an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act—for religious purposes. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the Court had to review individual religious freedom claims and grant exceptions to generally-applicable laws.
Looks like I'm guilty 2
We could not approve the slightest breach
Sounds like the intent is pretty clear... keep religion separate from politics... i.e. no religious displays on public property (or ALL religious displays on public property, but let's be real, with over 4000 gods to depict, this isn't a viable option).
What do you think Christians would say if this were a star & crescent (Muslim symbol), instead of a cross? They would be outraged that Muslims would dare violate the First Amendment. If the Founding Fathers were still around, they would be equally outraged that this blatant Christian symbol is tolerated, much less celebrated on government property. Despite the lies they tell at Liberty University, virtually all the Founding Fathers despised Christianity. But 230 years later, the religious fanatics (dominionists) are at it harder than ever, trying to take over this country. And it’s all based on two things: 1) profound ignorance and 2) intense hatred. Fundamentalist Christians are hard at work with their own version of The Crusades and The Inquisition. And now that Betsy DeVos, who hates public schools, will be Education Secretary, they see a good chance to completely eliminate science and secular history from U.S. textbooks. Because - you know - that’s what Jesus and Donald Trump would want.
So is this a violation of the US constitution's First Amendment?
To my knowledge, yes. It shows the government attempting to establish a state religion.
Thanks for the insights everyone
It's a religious symbol to those who are religious. A crescent is a religious symbol to some, a swastika to others. Christians have long used a fish as a symbol. Is taking down fish sculptures next in line?
So, is it the symbol or the intent which is the problem? Suppose the cross was put up with no religious intent. Would you still be objecting to it?
Pick your battles wisely or you'll just be a pain in the ass and will be viewed as such.