Proper recognition due
Several years ago, in Morgantown, W.Va., veterans organized a Memorial Day ceremony outside the courthouse there:
Nothing surprising, veterans across the country always remember their fallen comrades on Memorial Day.
But at this ceremony, the veterans passed out programs with a cross decorating the cover.
The daily newspaper in Morgantown, The Dominion Post, decided that was wrong, and published an editorial the next day assailing the veterans and asking why they chose a symbol honoring only Christian veterans, when Americans of all beliefs serve in the armed forces.
Indeed, the editorial noted, a plaque at the local synagogue, Tree of Life, contained the names of all Jewish Morgantowners — living and dead — who had served.
A spokesman for the local veterans admitted they were wrong. They even reached out to the Jewish community, asking its rabbi to do the invocation at the upcoming Veterans Day ceremony.
We’re reminded of that story now as a case is before the U.S. Supreme Court. It concerns a white cross that the Veterans of Foreign Wars erected on federal land in California’s Mojave Desert in 1934 to honor veterans of World War I, and which critics say violates the Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion.
In 1999, Buddhists requested permission to erect a shrine of their own near the cross. The National Park Service turned them down, hence the court case.
Ideally, we believe that no religious symbols should be erected on public lands, an inappropriate place for that kind of expression.
What really bothers us, though, is a comment made by a VFW/American Legion spokesman with regard to the case. According to NPR, Ted Cruz said, “For many, many years, we have used the symbol of a Latin cross to memorialize fallen veterans.”
Apparently, not all veterans, or at least their mouthpieces, have learned the Morgantown lesson.
The VFW and Legion only think they were honoring all their veterans; they were actually offending those of other religions who served. Many Jews may prefer not to make a big deal about it, but it’s hard to believe that even the most secular of Jewish veterans would feel honored by the erection of a cross.
The VFW argues that a Supreme Court ruling against the cross would place war memorials across the country at risk for demolition. That’s certainly a consideration, but for us, the issue is the philosophy behind these monuments. Attitudes must change — fast — if veterans groups still believe the right way to honor veterans of all faiths is with a Christian symbol.
This strikes us as a no brainer.
Jews have taken up arms for this country since the American Revolution. If, after 233 years, their comrades still don’t know how to appropriately honor their service, then that’s depressing.