“Truly I say to you…you will deny Me”

George Will is what passes for an intelligent man on the conservative side, I suppose, but wow, but religion twists his brain into a pretzel. His latest illogical argument is about the Bladensburg cross. This thing.

He thinks that the Supreme Court should rule that this is not a religious symbol. His arguments for this are, well, fucking stupid.

It was for reasons of traffic safety that the government in 1961 acquired the ground on which the Bladensburg cross sits. If, 58 years later, a few people in this age of hair-trigger rage choose to be offended by a long-standing monument reflecting the nation’s culture and traditions, those people, not the First Amendment, need help. The court should so rule when, sometime before this term ends in June, it announces its decision in this case, as the nine justices sit beneath a frieze that includes a symbol of religion: Moses with the Ten Commandments.

Bladensburg last had the nation’s attention because of the shambolic events of Aug. 24, 1814. President James Madison fled from there, where feeble American resistance enabled British soldiers to proceed to torch the president’s house and the Capitol. At Wednesday’s oral argument, the court, sitting across the street from the Capitol, can begin to tidy up its establishment clause jurisprudence that Justice Clarence Thomas correctly says is “in shambles.”

Here’s the enlightened reasoning he uses to arrive at this counterfactual conclusion.

  • It’s just the Outrage Brigade complaining. They “choose to be offended”, so they should just not choose that way. Only people who take Christianity for granted have voices that count.
  • It’s tradition. Yeah, so? Slavery was a tradition, too. That something was done one way in the past does not entail that it must be done in the same way for eternity.
  • It’s passive. No one is going to be converted just by walking past a cross, which is true, but that’s not the concern. This is on government land. It sends the message to everyone that the government favors one religion over another.
  • Honoring the war dead is a secular purpose. Sure, it’s even a humanist purpose. But what matters here is how they’re honored. Would Will make the same argument if the symbol were an inverted pentagram instead of a cross? No, he would not. He would freak out that the dead were being honored with sacrilege…to him.
  • There are other Christian symbols in government facilities. Yep. That’s not an argument for keeping others, it’s an argument for tearing them all down. Or, if they’re artistically worthy, neatly excising them and transferring them to private hands.
  • Circumlocutions. Many defenders are referring to this as a “cross-shaped object”, as if that passively removes all religious context. If I say a statue is only shaped like a winged demon osculating the hind end of a goat, that doesn’t abruptly turn it into an abstract, neutral object that would make no heretical impression on a passing Christian.

The whole thing is ridiculous. This cross was dedicated as an explicitly Christian symbol.

Representative Stephen W. Gambrill of the Fifth Maryland District delivered the dedication address, in which he stated: “You men of Prince Georges County fought for the sacred right of all to live in peace and security and by the token of this cross, symbolic of Calvary, let us keep fresh the memory of our boys who died for a righteous cause.”1 An invocation was given by Rev. A.J. Carey, pastor of St. Jerome’s Catholic Church. Rev. B.P. Robertson, pastor of the First Baptist Church pronounced a benediction.

For a court that claims the intent of the authors of the Constitution must be respected to suddenly pretend that the plain intent, clear symbology, and openly stated purpose of a giant Christian cross can be disregarded so they can maintain a dishonest pretense is absurd to an extreme degree. This is Christian conservative hypocrisy.

But I’m a pragmatist. I’m willing to compromise. I’m willing to cut George Will and other fanatics some slack and let them have their obvious Jesus monument if they’ll concede that we can reinterpret the Second Amendment to mean that only official military organizations of the US government are free to bear arms. You know, that’s less insane than putting on a pious act that a Christian symbol of Calvary is nothing but two sticks at right angles to one another.

Also, hey, George Will: read Matthew 26:34.


  1. DonDueed says

    Oh man, I’d make that tradeoff in a heartbeat. You can have my first amendment (or part of it), George, if I can have your second.

  2. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “Let us crucify George Will on a cross of concrete”, as Zombie William Jennings Bryan should have said.

  3. unclefrogy says

    if nothing is written on that cross maybe something should be like maybe “christ the king” I am sure george would agree
    uncle frogy

  4. whywhywhy says

    “justices sit beneath a frieze that includes a symbol of religion: Moses with the Ten Commandments.”
    First, we are a nation of laws, not a nation of art work.
    Second, the frieze only references some of the secular commandments (I wonder if Will is arguing that adultery should be a felony here?) and only as one of many equally shown ‘lawgivers’ throughout human history.
    Third, if this is truly important, then why do we let anyone other than Jews sit on the Supreme Court? The Ten Commandments were a Christian appropriation from the Jewish Talmud (there are a lot more than ten commandments to follow in Judaism).

  5. Bruce says

    So now George Will advocates that there’s nothing wrong with “Piss-Christ”-style art exhibits. A cross in a jar of urine he feels is NOT offensive to Christians, as it has nothing to do with Christianity, because a cross isn’t a religious symbol.
    Now we all know George doesn’t care about logic.
    So if Will can just throw out Christianity, can we?

  6. Sili says

    Why don’t they just cut off the cross-bar and call it a pillar?

    If there’s any text on them, they can leave the pieces at the base and call the whole thing an asherah or a lingam.

  7. says

    I wonder if Will would change his mind if he was told he was agreeing with some Quebec politicians. The current Coalition Avenir Quebec government wants to ban public servants, such as teachers and legal officials, from wearing overtly religious garb like hijabs and Sikh turbans. But at the same time they say they aren’t going to remove the crucifix that hangs above the speaker’s chair it the Quebec National Assembly, because it’s a “heritage object.”. The crucifix only dates back to 1936, and was installed at the behest of hardcore Catholic and reactionary asshole Premier Maurice Duplessis

  8. consciousness razor says

    Circumlocutions. Many defenders are referring to this as a “cross-shaped object”, as if that passively removes all religious context.

    Sure, it’s (merely) shaped like one … but what if it’s not cross-flavored? Has anybody checked? And would it sound like a cross when you beat it with stick, or what about when I do it?

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    Just to be clear: Do you think all buildings/monuments with any religious connotations should be removed from the National Register of Historic Places?

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    CD @14: If they’re on the NRHP and privately owned, they qualify for tax incentives for upkeep. And a subset of NRHP is National Historic Landmarks (e.g. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church), about half of which are privately owned, but even for those, the National Park Service assists in their maintenance.

  11. hemidactylus says

    There are other atheists as unsavory or perhaps more so than George Will. So his atheism gets him nowhere especially expressing the above on separation clause wrt this cross. He likes baseball, which I can’t stand, but so did Gould. Were they on friendly terms? George Will had the principled conscience and integrity to bolt the GOP because Trump. But he is still conservative with all that entails. He’s not the worst person in the world, but stuff like this reminds me that Will has foibles.

    But hell yeah he is still at it…bashing Trump:

    I don’t like where he’s going with this double slam: “The president has kept his promise not to address the unsustainable trajectory of the entitlement state (about the coming unpleasant reckoning, he said: “Yeah, but I won’t be here”),” Spoken like a true social spending cutter conservative,

    But this is priceless: “His historical ignorance deprives him of the satisfaction of working in a house where much magnificent history has been made. His childlike ignorance — preserved by a lifetime of single-minded self-promotion — concerning governance and economics guarantees that whenever he must interact with experienced and accomplished people, he is as bewildered as a kindergartener at a seminar on string theory.” Say what you will about Will but he is a master wordsmith. And he sure as hell is not fond of the dipshit in the Oval Office. Wish the Republican Senate would follow suit.

  12. marcoli says

    Another suggestion: Erect big monuments to other forms of worship on the same property. A big statue of Satan seated at a throne would look nice.

  13. says

    I must object to Will being called a baseball fan, generally. He is, rather famously because he claims it influenced his politics, a Cubs fans. Cubs fans are, or at least were, remarkably different from baseball fans, general, or fans of other specific teams. Just a quick demonstration: Cubs tickets sales were 4 times more sensitive to changes in beer prices than changes in winning percentage historically. From when the data was started the be tracked systematically, in the 40’s, until 2010ish Cubs ticket sales only had a .4 correlation coefficient with winning percentage. (Red Sox/Yankees have .9) This is the lowest of any team and more than 2 standard deviation lower than the average team. Relatively speaking Cubs fans don’t (or didn’t) care about winning. It is why they are Cubs fans.