Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the War Memorial Protection Act (H.R. 290), which would allow the government to erect religious symbols as war memorials. The legislation is an attempt to circumvent a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the 43-foot Mt. Soledad Latin cross war memorial is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. Interfaith Alliance joined an amicus brief in this case, and Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement in response to today’s vote:
I am both troubled by and disappointed in the House’s passage of the War Memorial Protection Act today. Though there are times when the government can appropriately include religious symbols and imagery on public land, a memorial featuring a Latin cross as the only symbol seems far from appropriate. What this legislation does is set our government up to fail by putting it in a position in which it must choose between religious symbols and thus, between religions, in direct opposition to the tenets of our First Amendment.
At issue here is not the Free Exercise right of soldiers, who have sacrificed their lives for our nation, to be able to have a symbol of the faith of their choosing on their headstones. Nor is this an issue of whether a host of religious symbols representing the faiths of the fallen can be included in a private, or even a government-created, war memorial. Simply put, this legislation could allow the government to build crosses as monuments to our fallen soldiers.
Such a move would be both bad for government—placing it in the unconstitutional position of showing preference for one religion over another—and bad for religion—reducing the age-old symbols of our faiths to secularized markers. Those who have fallen in battle for our country often have done so while protecting the rights that are the cornerstone of our democracy and, specifically, our First Amendment. Central to these defining characteristics are our religious liberties—the ones jeopardized should this bill become law.
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.