Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Save to My Library
Look up keyword
Like this
3Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Letter in Support of Woonsocket Fire Dpt. Cross

Letter in Support of Woonsocket Fire Dpt. Cross

Ratings: (0)|Views: 176 |Likes:
Published by Bill Santagata

More info:

Published by: Bill Santagata on Apr 26, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

06/10/2013

pdf

text

original

 
William Santagata[address redacted]Cranston, RI 02921wes228@nyu.eduMayor Leo Fontaine168 Main Street Woonsocket, RI 02895April 25, 2012Dear Mayor Fontaine,As a citizen of Rhode Island with a keen interest in Establishment Clause jurisprudence,I am writing to urge you to keep the cross memorial as-is in front of the Woonsocket Fire Sta-tion. As this complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation comes on the heels of theCranston School Prayer Banner case, it is no surprise that the Rhode Island community willmake comparisons between the two displays. While I believed strongly that that the Prayer Ban-ner was unconstitutional and advocated earnestly for its removal, I also believe that, due to thefactual di
ff 
erences between these cases (namely that the Prayer Banner was in a public school, asetting that implicates a di
ff 
erent and stricter Establishment Clause case law), a comparison be-tween the two is not apt and that the City of Woonsocket would be successful in any suit lodgedagainst it.
 
 
e monument in this matter falls within the grey area of the Establishment Clause thatis described by Justice Breyer in his concurring opinion in
Van Orden v. Perry
545 U.S. 677(2005), which upheld a 10 Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capi-tol. While “the government must avoid excessive interference with, or promotion of, religion […]the Establishment Clause does not compel the government to purge from the public sphere allthat in any way partakes of the religious. Such absolutism is not only inconsistent with our na-tional traditions, but would also tend to promote the kind of social conflict the Establishment
 
Clause seeks to avoid”
id.
(internal citations omitted).
 
e factual record particular to this monu-ment aligns closely with the
Van Orden
standard and this case would play a key role should theCity decide to stand its ground and preserve this historical marker.“Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doc-trine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause”
Van Orden
; rather, the alleged constitu-tional infraction must be viewed through the eyes of the reasonable observer, a fictional person-age who “is the personification of a community ideal of reasonable behavior, determined by thecollective social judgment, whose knowledge is not limited to information gleaned from viewingthe challenged display, but extends to the general history of the place in which the display ap-pears”
Capitol Square Review Blvd. v. Pinette 
515 U.S. 753 (1995).
 
 
e reasonable observer here would see the monument knowing that it is nearly a century old, that it was erected in honor oMr. William  Jolicoeur who was killed in battle during World War I, that Mr.  Jolicoeur was a member of the American Expeditionary Forces, that the cross memorializing his death accords with his faith, and that “historians and veterans regard the marker as a living link to Europe’s al-lies, especially France. At the close of World War I, Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the SupremeCommander of the Allied Forces, a Frenchman often called Europe’s counterpart to GeneralDwight Eisenhower, traveled to Woonsocket to dedicate the stone” (
e Call 
, “Cross in Group’sCrosshairs,” 23 April 2012). In his
Van Orden
concurrence, Justice Breyer noted that “focusing onthe text of the Commandments alone cannot conclusively resolve this case. Rather, to determinethe message that the text here conveys, we must examine how the text is used. And that inquiry requires us to consider the context of the display”
id 
.
 
(B
REYER 
, concurring). Seeing the crossalone outside of the corresponding monument on which it rests would be to ignore the guidanceof the Supreme Court.
 
e reasonable observer would see the cross and monument together as anhonorable tribute to a specific Woonsocket citizen in keeping with his religious beliefs, not as acoercive message by a government intent on endorsing the Christian religion above all others.Additionally, in coming to his decision, Justice Breyer considered the environment in which thestone tablet was placed: “
 
e physical setting of the monument, moreover, suggests little or noth-ing of the sacred. […]
 
e setting does not readily lend itself to meditation or any other religiousactivity”
id 
. Nor does the parking lot of a fire station.While the age of a monument or practice cannot in and of itself cure what would other- wise be a constitutional infraction, it can still nonetheless be a vital factor in determining its con-stitutionality. “Standing alone, historical patterns cannot justify contemporary violations of con-
2
 
stitutional guarantees, but there is far more here than simply historical patterns”
 Marsh v. Cham-bers
463 U.S. 783 (1983). As Justice Breyer found regarding the
Van Orden
monument, “
 
is dis-play has stood apparently uncontested for nearly two generations.
 
at experience helps us un-derstand that as a practical matter of degree this display is unlikely to prove divisive. And thismatter of degree is, I believe, critical in a borderline case such as this one”
Van Orden
(B
REYER 
,concurring).
 
e 10 Commandments tablet in question stood for 40 years before a suit was filed;the Woonsocket memorial has stood for 91. “
 
ose [91] years suggest more strongly than can any set of formulaic tests that few individuals, whatever their belief systems, are likely to have under-stood the monument as amounting, in any significantly detrimental way, to a government e
ff 
ortto establish religion”
id 
.
 
e passage of time could not forgive an overtly coercive message by thegovernment such as a banner entreating schoolchildren to pray to a “Heavenly Father.” But inregards to religious displays that have additional layers of meaning, such as the 10 Command-ments (with its place within the context of the history of law and governance) or this memorial(the cross not serving a principal purpose of endorsing Christianity but of honoring a specificChristian soldier dear to this community), “those 40 years [regarding the 10 Commandmentsmonument] suggest that the public visiting the capitol grounds has considered the religious as-pect of the tablets’ message as part of what is a broader moral and historical message reflective of a cultural heritage”
id 
. After 91 years, it is therefore this “broader moral and historical message”that dominates rather than a context of endorsing Christianity as the City’s preferred religionthat one may glean from only a cursory viewing of the monument.
 
e argument of the FreedomFrom Religion Foundation “fundamentally misunderstands the way monuments convey meaning.
 
e meaning conveyed by a monument is not generally a simple one like ‘Beef: It’s what’s fordinner.’ Even when a monument features the written word, the monument may be intended to beinterpreted, and may in fact be interpreted, by di
ff 
erent observers, in a variety of ways”
Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum
555 U.S. 460 (2009) (internal citations omitted). To kowtow tocomplainant’s simplistic interpretation of the monument (presumably: “Jesus: It’s what’s best for you.”), permitting it to dominate and control public policy, would be to allow a “heckler’s veto,” whereby “an unwarranted extension of the Establishment Clause, an extension which would havethe unfortunate e
ff 
ect of prohibiting a commendable patriotic observance,” would prevail.
 ElkGrove Unified School District v. Newdow
542 U.S. 1 (2004) (O’C
ONNOR 
, concurring).In
Salazar v. Buono
559 U.S. ___ (2010), the Supreme Court reversed a decision by the9th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that a land-transfer statute passed by Congress to preserve
3

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->