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Jewish World Review
May 28, 2009
/ 5 Sivan 5769
The ACLU Talks Too Much
It was my old friend and mentor, Luigi Barzini,
who asseverated, "Americans talk too much." He was sitting in the elegant
library of his home in Rome. The year was 1978, though I cannot recall the
contemporary controversy that aroused him. Luigi's point was that we were
wrangling again fortissimo con brio , and he thought
our jabbering was obscuring careful thought again. He was a great friend of
America. He had been partly educated here. He wrote in both Italian and
superb English. In fact, at the time, he was finishing one of his many fine
books, "The Europeans." It contains a friendly chapter on the USA full of
shrewd insights. He believed we often argued garrulously about things that
were not worth arguing about.
A case is about to be tried in the Supreme Court that fits
Luigi's diagnosis. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit in 2001
demanding that a 7-foot cross erected in the California desert in 1934
commemorating sacrifices endured by our troops in World War I be taken down.
At some point after 1934, the land on which the cross was erected became
federally protected, and thus, the cross became a fit issue for the ACLU's
squalling about the separation of church and state. The creation of this
World War I monument was get this! part of a 1930s medical program to
help World War I veterans recover from shell shock. Physicians treating them
thought that their work in the desert heat would be therapeutic. In 2004,
the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU, but veterans
groups objected thus the case's journey to the Supreme Court.
Now, it would seem to me that the cross is a historic monument
that need not be subject to contemporary fashions in thought, to wit, the
fashion of hunting down religious symbols and eliminating them from
government property. The cross simply represents the feelings of service
members from a bygone era. There are religious symbols on public display
from the past elsewhere. For instance, there are religious symbols on the
Supreme Court building. If I recall, I have seen a carving in the court's
chamber of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God. There may even be
a picture of God up there. Viewing the 1934 cross today might give curious
Americans a sense of what our country was like back in those days, before
the ACLU was spreading good will around the country by harassing people of
Yet that is not the way the battle-axes at the ACLU see it. One
of its learned lawyers, Peter Eliasberg, told The Washington Times, "For us
to choose the principal symbol of one religion that says Jesus is the Son of
God and He is divine and say that is an appropriate way to reflect the
sacrifice of people who don't believe that . is excluding by its very
nature." Well, "we" did not choose the symbol. Veterans from what once was
called the Great War did, apparently with the consent of their physicians.
This is an interesting historic memorial that the ACLU would deny us.
Veterans groups that are opposing the removal of the cross
disagree with Eliasberg. Their members argue that the cross represents the
"Fallen Soldier Battle Cross." That is a rifle and crossed bayonet that is
driven into the ground to honor a fallen comrade. Will the ACLU oppose this,
too? Jim Sims, of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, told the Times the
controversy is "about thousands of veteran memorials and monuments around
the country. This is about the issue of honoring veterans."
It is trendy in our noisy public discourse to see "the right"
being accused of injecting religion into politics. Actually, very often "the
right" or, more specifically, "the Christian right" merely is
defending settled manifestations of religion that go back decades in our
history, occasionally centuries. As I see it, the ACLU would have us rewrite
American history, eliminating all references to God, the Bible and other
such artifacts. Of course, for people of faith, these artifacts are
reminders of faith. So maybe the ACLU could begin a campaign to disallow
people of faith from lapsing into prayer in front of such reminders.
Possibly the ACLU's next campaign will be to eliminate religious symbols
from public buildings, starting with the Supreme Court. As Luigi noticed,
some "americanos" are too disputatious.
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