The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Supreme Court Weighs Fate of Mojave Cross
hen Congress passed a law transferring the property around a war memorial cross in the Mojave National Preserve into private hands, did that resolve a court ruling that the cross violated church-state separation?
The U.S. Supreme Court grappled with that question Wednesday (Oct. 7) and related thorny issues, including how veterans should be memorialized and whether other cross-shaped war memorials are in danger of being taken down.
The case reached the nation's highest court eight years after a former assistant superintendent of the preserve sued because the National Park Service permitted the cross on its land but rejected a Buddhist shrine.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued that the transfer to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, arranged through a 2004 act of Congress, was a proper way to handle the complaint.
“The Establishment Clause does not prohibit the sensible action Congress took,” she argued on behalf of the government.
She said a lower court left the government with two options when it determined the memorial was unconstitutional: either remove the cross, which had “acquired deep meaning for the veterans in the community,” or find a way to dissociate the government from the 7-foot symbol.
Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Southern California argued that the congressional remedy amounted to preferential treatment since it was transferred to the very group that first erected the cross in 1934.
“The government is taking affirmative steps to permit, through this transfer statute, the display of the cross that they are enjoined from doing,” said Eliasberg, who represented Frank Buono, the former preserve employee.
The justices delved into questions about how many national memorials exist with religious symbols and whether such memorials would be appropriate in various locations across the country.
“There is, for example, a statue of a Catholic priest holding a very large cross,” said Kagan, referring to a monument to explorer and priest Jacques Marquette in Michigan. “But most national memorials are ... not religious. Some are.”
She suggested that a religious building, such as a church or synagogue, could be a national memorial if it had particular historical significance, such as links to the civil rights work of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “In order to honor Dr. King, I think that would be permissible,” she said.
But she said national memorials can be on public or private land.
Kagan argued that in the case of the Mojave cross, “if the transfer had taken place it would no longer have been the government's property.” A lower court blocked the transfer as an insufficient remedy.
Eliasberg said the retention of the Mojave cross as a national memorial on private land is questionable.
“A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind (from) our sins,” he argued.
Justice Antonin Scalia disagreed.
“The cross is the ... most common symbol of ... the resting place of the dead,” Scalia said, calling Eliasberg's contention that the cross only honors dead Christian veterans “outrageous.”
He asked Eliasberg if he'd prefer “some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star.”
Eliasberg countered that crosses are not put on Jewish tombstones. “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians,” he said.
The location of a cross-shaped memorial was also addressed by the justices, who compared its site -- as Chief Justice John Roberts put it -- “in the middle of nowhere” to a more visible location on the National Mall in Washington.
Eliasberg told Justice John Paul Stevens that context matters in cases dealing with the First Amendment's prohibition against government-established religion, but he reiterated that the cross in a remote area has been designated as a national memorial.
“Even though this may be an area that is not nearly as populated as Washington, D.C., it is very significant that Congress has taken the step with this particular symbol, one of only 49 in the country, grouping it with other iconic statues and memorials,” he said.
In another point of comparison, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked Eliasberg what would happen to the Argonne Cross in Arlington National Cemetery, which commemorates lives lost in World War I, if the high court determines the Mojave cross should come down.
“In Arlington, there is a cross that is surrounded by a sea of tombstones with symbols of the faith of all of the different service members,” Eliasberg responded. “In that context, I don't think anyone would perceive that the government was favoring one particular religion.”
Religious groups praise Obama's Nobel Prize
Religious leaders, from the National Association of Evangelicals to Vatican officials, praised Friday's (Oct. 9) selection of President Obama as the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Nobel Committee specifically cited Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples,” particularly his goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, an NAE board member and megachurch pastor from suburban Orlando, Fla., said Obama's anti-nuclear activism reflects a renewed push among evangelical leaders for nuclear disarmament.
“President Obama is to be congratulated for setting a course so that the generation that had school drills to hide under our desks in case of nuclear attack should be the source of a permanent recess from fear for our grandchildren,” he said.
The same day as the Nobel announcement, the NAE was gathered outside Washington for a leadership conference, with anti-nuclear activism as part of the official agenda.
Chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the choice is “greeted with appreciation in the Vatican” and praised Obama's “demonstrated ... promotion of peace in the international arena, and in particular and recently in favor of nuclear disarmament.
“It is hoped that this most important recognition will further encourage such a commitment, which is difficult yet fundamental for the future of humanity, that it may produce the hoped-for results.”
The surprise announcement angered conservative groups, especially over Obama's support for abortion rights at home and abroad.
“Mother Teresa called abortion the greatest destroyer of peace,” Cathy Ruse wrote on the blog of the Family Research Council. “But according to the Nobel committee, forcing taxpayers to fund it gets you a peace prize.”
Others questioned whether Obama deserved the award so early in his presidency. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the New York-based CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, called the choice “ridiculous.”
“His getting this award demeans the process, past recipients, and may indicate that the judges are the worst kinds of panderers who some have previously accused them of being,” Hirschfield said.
Schwarzenegger Angers Sikhs by Vetoing Kirpan Bill
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed as “unnecessary” a bill that would require law enforcement officials to learn about Sikhs, specifically a ceremonial dagger called a kirpan considered a central article of faith.
“The veto message makes no sense to us,” said Neha Singh, Western regional director of the Sikh Coalition. “The community is shocked, we are very outraged. It was a real surprise.”
Assembly Bill 504 would have required the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission to create training materials about the Sikh community and the kirpan “as part of peace officers' cultural diversity and weapons violations training.” The bill passed through both houses of legislature with unanimous, bipartisan votes.
The kirpan is one of five articles of faith carried by Sikhs, mandated by the Rehat Maryada, or Sikh code of conduct. The small dagger is meant to remind Sikhs of their duty to protect the weak and promote justice.
The Sikh Coalition has resolved more than 20 cases nationwide related to the kirpan since the group formed in the aftermath of 9/11. In most cases, judges dismissed the case or prosecutors agreed not to bring charges when they recognized the religious significance and non-violent intent of carrying the dagger-like object, the group said.
“Generally, part of the problem has been that police officers don't know what they're looking at when they see a kirpan,” said Singh.
The POST Commission regularly gathers training officers from across the state to discuss training priorities for law enforcement agencies.
“If in these training needs assessments it is determined that training is needed in regards to the kirpan, training will be developed,” POST spokesman Bob Stresak said.
India Rejects Albania's Request for Mother Teresa's Remains
Indian officials have rejected a request by the Albanian government to return the remains of Mother Teresa to the country of her birth.
The Albanian request came from Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who had said on Saturday (Oct. 10) that his government had sought the return of Mother Teresa's remains before the 100th anniversary of her birth next August. Berisha said Albania has started negotiations with the Indian government which “will be intensified this year.”
Mother Teresa, who died in Calcutta in 1997, was born in 1910 as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia. Her family was ethnic Albanian and devoutly Catholic.
A spokesman of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs told the Mumbai newspaper DNA that “Mother Teresa is an Indian citizen.” The newspaper added that “the fact that she was an Indian citizen is a clear indication that for New Delhi the argument ends here.”
In Calcutta, where Mother Teresa is buried at the Missionaries of Charity motherhouse, officials at the order said they had not received any request for the transfer of Mother Teresa's mortal remains to Albania.
“Unless we receive any specific request ... we cannot comment,” said the Rev. Robin Gomes, who ministers to the nuns in Calcutta.
Gomes added that the Missionaries of Charity “would not probably agree to any request for transfer of her remains outside of her tomb” because “it will not be fair to remove her remains from there.”