The First Amendment is for sale. If you want to use it, you’re going to have to buy it. In fact, in order to exercise its guarantee of the free exercise of religion, you’d better be prepared to cough up $1.4 million.
That’s what it cost to preserve the 29-foot cross on Mt. Soledad, erected in honor of our Korean war veterans. The cross has been in the cross-hairs of anti-Christian bigots for decades, and supporters had to pay $1.4 million in protection money to preserve it from the bulldozers and jackhammers.
The cross was constructed in 1954 as a war memorial and honors nearly 4,000 veterans. It sits majestically atop Mt. Soledad, where it looks out over the Pacific Ocean.
The cross and the half-acre plot on which it stands was preserved by being sold to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, the organization which for a long time has maintained the cross and the property.
Opponents of the cross won a judgment against the memorial from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the cross is a “distinctively Christian symbol.” Of course it is. Opponents argued in court that the cross signifies “that Jesus is the Son of God and died to redeem mankind.” Of course it does.
And the First Amendment exists precisely to protect the public display of such religious symbols and messages. In fact, the First Amendment quite explicitly prohibits the federal government or any branch of it, including the judiciary, from interfering with the free expression of Christianity in any way, shape or form.
It unambiguously says that “Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. As Joseph Story pointed out in his monumental history of the Constitution, the whole purpose of the First Amendment was to protect Christian liberty in the United States by forbidding any interference of the central government in religious affairs.
Sadly, defenders of public crosses and public displays of the Ten Commandments have been forced to resort to the plainly unconvincing argument that such symbols are not really religious at all but are purely of an historical nature. Everybody knows this is nonsense, even though such a line of argument may be the only avenue left to attorneys who are determined to protect what is left of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Now veterans and the attorneys who defended this cross are rightly happy about the outcome. "Today's actions will ensure that the memorial will continue to stand in honor of our veterans for decades to come,” said Liberty Institute attorney Hiram Sasser. “This is a great victory for the veterans who originally placed this memorial and the Korean War veterans the memorial honors.”
Of course attorneys must be shrewd enough to know how to argue a winning case in court. But this outcome, as glad as we may be that the cross has been preserved, comes at a staggering cost to religious liberty. If the only way to prevail in court today is to strip plainly religious symbols of all spiritual meaning, then the victory - and it certainly is a victory of sorts - is a hollow one.
If defending a Christian symbol on historical heritage grounds is the only avenue left that has any chance of success, then of course attorneys must pursue that course. I intend no criticism whatsoever of attorneys who argue this way. The fact this slender reed is the only support left is not their fault but the fault of anti-Christian activist judges who have been detonating improvised explosive devices under the religious liberty plank of the Constitution since at least 1947.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly and unambiguously guarantees the liberty to freely express Christian religious opinion. It is one of the unalienable rights given to us by our Creator. The fact that it is an “unalienable” right means that no one - not the ACLU, not the 9th Circuit, not the Supreme Court itself - has the right to remove it from us.
Who would have dreamed that the day would come when it would cost over a million bucks for something the Founders assured us was ours at no cost by divine right?
Bottom line: if you have to pay extortion money to ransom a symbol of the Christian faith, the free exercise of religion is no longer free. And that is a tragic loss for us all.