‘Freedom of Religion Does Not Require Freedom From Religion:’ Gov. Vows to Defend Memorial

PenceINDIANAPOLIS — The governor of Indiana is vowing to defend the display of a veterans’ memorial in one the state parks after a prominent atheist activist organization expressed opposition to the carving because it includes a cross.

“So long as I am governor, I will defend the right of Hoosiers to display this sculpture in Whitewater Memorial State Park as a lasting tribute to the service and sacrifice of all who have worn the uniform of the United States,” Gov. Mike Spence wrote in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Last month, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter last month to the Cameron Clark, the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to assert that the cross, which will be a part of the wooden sculpture that includes a bald eagle and an Indiana state flag. It also reads, “All gave some; some gave all.”

“No secular purpose, no matter how sincere, will detract from the overall message that the Latin cross stands for Christianity and the overall display promotes Christianity,” the correspondence, written by attorney Rebecca Markert, read. “The display of this patently religious symbol in a city park would confer government endorsement of Christianity, a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause.”

The Establishment Clause, found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Markert asserted that the display of the monument—should it include the cross—on public property was unlawful, and asked the Department to either “replace the statue’s cross with a secular symbol, remove the cross or deny the statue’s placement in Whitewater Memorial Park.”

But Gov. Mike Pence, who reportedly attends an evangelical Christian church, said that he supported the placement of the sculpture and vowed to defend it. He disagreed that the presence of the cross constituted a legal violation.

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“I fully support the decision by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to accept the sculpture commissioned by local citizens to honor all who have fallen in service to our country,” he said. “The freedom of religion does not require freedom from religion. The Constitutions of our state and nation more than allow the placement of this Hoosier artist’s sculpture on public land.”

A Facebook page has also been created in support of the memorial entitled Keep the Cross Carving at Whitewater Memorial State Park. It currently has over 1,100 members.

“It infuriates me that people will not let others display a symbol on which our entire government is established. The naysayers are out there saying ‘this country was not founded on Christianity.’ That is quite a broad claim to make,” one supporter, named Keith, stated. “We can’t display the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, but our own Supreme Court has a monument of Moses holding the Ten Commandments on the east side of the courthouse.”

“If it is offensive to an atheist to have a symbol of God displayed publicly, it is equally offensive to me for nothing to be displayed as that is supporting atheist beliefs,” he continued. “The freedom of speech as well as the freedom of religion as supported by the Constitution of these United States should have everything to do with this discussion. It was privately funded. It is high time minorities stop being given the priorities in our country.”

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  • Mark Moore

    Freedom of religion absolutely requires freedom from religion. You can not have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. Imagine being a Christian and being required to worship Mohammed, Ra, Thor and the other thousand or so gods. You would have no freedom of religion precisely because you had no freedom from those religions.

    This should be obvious to even the most foolish.

    • James J. Grimes

      Why wasn’t this thought even an issue 30 years ago?

    • Frankie

      By displaying the cross, no one is requiring anyone to worship God. There is freedom from religion in this country. You may choose to not beleive and not worship. The inclusion of a cross on memorial does not in anyway establish a religion.

      This should be obvious…..

      • Tom

        I may not be required to worship a god by displaying a cross, but I am being required to support your religion via our government, which has legal authority and operates on tax dollars paid by all American citizens, not just Christians. The government does not have a religion. If they are going to allow the display of a cross, they’re going to have to allow religious and anti-religious displays of all flavors without discrimination. Since this is doubtful to happen, it’s best to leave religion where it belongs: in your private lives. You as a citizen can talk about your religion in public and you can practice your religion in public. You simply cannot use government authority or resources to promote your religion. You have to do it on your own.

      • C. P. Steinmetz

        Several things are obvious:

        1. James asks why wasn’t this an issue 30 years ago. It is because 30 years ago the non-belivers had no organization, and therefore could not exert concentrated action against Christian oppression. Then along came the Internet and World Wide Web.

        2. Frankie assumes that there is only one “God” – the Christian god – and the binary choice is to worship or not.

        Since “The inclusion of a cross on memorial does not in anyway establish a religion,” I guese that means you wouldn’t mind if it included “There is no victor but Allah” [ليس هناك منتصر إلا الله], or a downward pointing pentagram from Satan worshipers. Or maybe a statement extolling the virtures of rational thought versus religion.

        The point is that there are different beliefs, and the government supporting just one of thse beliefs violates the establishment clause.

  • Tom

    Also, the law is not that “no religion can be established.” The law is that the government cannot “respect an establishment of religion.” Christianity is an establishment of religion, and a cross respects that establishment. By removing the cross, no private citizen’s rights are being limited. This is an act of government endorsement of religion, not of personal religious freedom.

  • WorldGoneCrazy

    Bertrand Russell: published Principia Mathematica. Carl Sagan: sent spacecraft to the planets and beyond. New A-theists: “tear down that cross – it’s giving me a headache.” Oh, how my former comrades-in-arms have fallen into destruction, whereas we former Old A-theists were at least somewhat productive with our lives. But, I guess one cannot be constructive while smoking pot in the basement of one’s parents.