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June 17, 2004

From The Sublime To The Ridiculous

David 'Kip' Koontz

You sometimes have to wonder what the American Civil Liberties Union thinks when it chooses what battles to fight.

Recently they successfully challenged the County of Los Angeles to have a cross removed from its flag and seal claiming it violated the Constitution's clause separating church and state.

The county's supervisors caved in to the demand saying they were tired of the fight. In place of the cross, the supervisors put in a mission and a picture of an indigenous person.

According to reports the ACLU took up this cause to help build their record to pursue other communities and symbols across the country.

Since 1999 the ACLU has been successful in removing crosses from government seals in Redlands and La Mesa, CA; Zion, IL; Stow, OH; Bernalillo, NM; Rolling Meadows, IL; and Edmonds, OK.

Although a spokesman for the ACLU said they do not choose to pursue it at this time, there is concern that the name Los Angeles may actually be government establishing religion, thus unconstitutional.

Specifically in reference to LA is the town's formal name, "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion," is, according to some, a religious reference as it refers to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and, as such, is government establishing religion.

Well, hmmm, let's look into the history of the founding of LA. A bunch of Spanish priests were settling missions throughout the west and California, so it might make some sense for them to name their settlements after those things they know --- all things religious.

Is the ACLU actually going to expect that an entire community erase its history to fit the concept of "separation of church and state," an application of which is certainly far different today than it was in the late 1700's and early 1800's when California was being settled.

But let's just take a quick look at some of the many other cities that may be in trouble if the ACLU chooses to pursue the idea that town names signify that government is indeed establishing religion. That same spokesman referred to earlier said something to the affect that it only takes someone to complain for them to look seriously at a challenge.

San Francisco, Santa Monica, San Diego, Santa Barbara - just a couple more in California, there are countless others.

Then, of course, there is St. Louis in Missouri and the nation's oldest city, St. Augustine, FL, to name a couple more.

These challenges would seemingly be endless.

This raises some interesting questions.

What about a community's history? Does it mean nothing?

How can we apply today's view of "establishment of religion" to a name of a town founded a century or centuries ago, when the view of that term had to have been so clearly different?

As for flags and seals, Maryland will most certainly face a challenge as our state flag has two crosses on it and the pole from which the Maryland flag flies, must, by state law, be adorned by a cross as well.

That gives us three crosses to complain about; regardless of their historic significance and that they were a family crest, right?

Alabama, with its flag being simply a white background bearing the St. Andrew cross will surely raise the ACLU's hackles.

You do have to wonder whether the ACLU will pursue New Mexico's flag on which there is a Native American spiritual symbol representing the "Great Giver" that depicts Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter; North, South, East and West; morning, noon, evening and night; and childhood, youth, middle age and old age?

What spiritual symbols portrayed by government, even if it a part of their history, will be deemed inappropriate for public display because it may offend?

It is most likely that many people will see this in the same light as forcing states to remove symbols of the Confederacy from their flags and state seals. Perhaps they are right. But it might be proffered that in many of those instances the symbols were placed there post Civil War for intentions far worse than older historical representations of religion.

To that end, the separation of church and state is a good thing. Nor should the government be in the business of establishing a state church.

But at what point do we give up our history to be politically correct?

Research the name of your town and record its history, for someday its very name may be just that.

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