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Here and there across the nation, atheists have been energetic about their distaste for seeing memorial crosses along highways where people have died in traffic accidents, or crosses erected in memory of law enforcement officers.
Citing separation of church and state issues, i.e. public roads and highways being “state” property, lawsuits have been filed.
But in Livingston, New Jersey, Patrick Racaniello’s decision to put a cross on a tree in his front yard during Lent had him in trouble with . . . an ordinance against littering.
After some stubbornness, the township’s council — faced with an equally stubborn Racaniello’s plans to sue them over his constitutional rights to freedom of religion and expression, on his own property — amended the code.
Obviously, the ordinance was aimed at the proliferation of notices and signs for yard sales, work-from-home offers and advertising posters that so often get tacked on trees, poles, fences, etc., only to tumble into the gutters. Litter, in other words.
And while some particularly obnoxious faith-haters may disagree (some, I say, since most secularists I know are not ornery and bitter, vandalize-a-manger-scene types), Racaniello’s tacking of a small wooden cross on his tree was not litter by any sane interpretation.
So, some township code enforcement type either was either miffed at Racaniello personally, just plain hated religious expression, or in dire need of fiber. We may never know.
Apparently, it took Racaniello enlisting some legal heavyweights — in this case, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund — to get the council’s attention. Earlier this week, then, the council voted unanimously to revise the code. Bottom line, Racaniello now can display the cross on that tree in his yard.
Well, he could before, legally, but now he won’t have to hassle with Livingston’s code enforcement folks to do so. That pesky Constitution trumps local ordinances every time.
The broader battle over public religious expression, of course, is hardly ended. There are always appeals, regardless of which side the courts favor. And, honestly, there are times zealous believers go too far trying to impose their moral standards in a secular society, just as there are times when secularists with their own ax to grind try to eliminate faith from the public square.
Next on the litigation hit list pitting non-believers against believers? “In God We Trust.” I say next, but it already has been before the Supreme Court, and failed. But in one form or another, it just keeps cropping up.
The American Atheists reportedly have a petition campaign underway aimed at stopping Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes’ bill making that slogan, printed on our money, into the official national motto.
Frankly, I wonder about this idea, too.
Given our country’s moral morass and breakdown of the family (nearly 24 million, roughly 24 percent of American kids are in single-parent homes, and 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock), I wonder if we truly do “Trust in God.”
Seems if we truly did, our society might reflect some of those more positive attributes people of faith are supposed to exhibit.
You know, like following the Ten Commandments.
Well, assuming they will still be posted anywhere in public.