Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, November 18, 2005  

Analysis: Crosses logo and Las Cruces simpatico

I definitely favor the separation of church and state. Contrary to what naysayers would have us believe, the United States was founded as a secular nation despite the Christian beliefs of most of the founders. They had no intention of creating a theocracy. Of more importance, there is no rational reason to allow the country to become officially Christian (no one ever suggests Jewish, Buddhist or animist) today. Still, there are issues involving the First Amendment and religion that challenge even someone as steadfast as I am.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The opening phrase is interpreted to include any government, not only Congress, by application of the Fourteenth Amendment. That is the only way to prevent other forms of government from supporting establishment of religion. Issues involving the Establishment Clause usually arise at the local, usually county or city, level. That is what has occurred in one of America's most historically intriguing cities.

Fox News reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — In New Mexico, the city of Las Cruces, Spanish for 'the crosses,' is under fire because of the religious implications of the official logo.

A federal lawsuit seeks to have the logo, which depicts three adjoining crosses, changed to something that does not include any reference to Christianity.

Filed by Paul Weinbaum and Martin Boyd, the lawsuit claims the logo amounts to religious persecution of non-Christians.

"The last time we saw crosses on a police uniform is the examples from Nazi Germany and we got police in Las Cruces with crosses on their uniforms," explains Weinbaum. "I almost get upset spending time on this because we have other things we can be taking care of."

Among those who want the logo to remain as is are Las Cruces Mayor Bill Mattiace and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Mattiace maintains the crosses do not endorse any particular religion and are up ton individual interpretation. "Anyone can perceive what they want out of that log[o], so they have no right to change it for the others that are depicting and seeing something else in that symbol."

If this scenario were proposed, I would have no problem saying that it is forbidden by the First Amendment. I would say Las Cruces needs to choose another municipal symbol, one without religious connotations. I would be suspicious that the Christian Right is behind a plan to create a city logo featuring crosses. But the situation is not proposed, instead it is grounded in history. What became Las Cruces was explored by Spanish conquistadors in 1548. It was one of the mission towns that are common in New Mexico, Colorado, California and Texas. The name in itself, The Crosses, is religious. The specific reason for it has been lost to time, but there are anecdotes.

There are multiple theories as to how Las Cruces got its name. One theory suggests that sometime during the 18th Century, a bishop, a priest, a Mexican Army colonel, a captain, four trappers and four choir boys were attacked near the Rio Grande and only one - a boy - survived. Crosses were erected in their honor, and the name, El Pueblo del Jardin de Las Cruces, (the City of the Garden of Crosses,) evolved.

Other stories say multiple crosses were erected in the area to mark the grave sites of the many victims of Apache raids. Still another story is that a group of 40 travelers from Taos, NM were killed just as they reached Las Cruces. But some people feel that the name is simply the Spanish translation for "crossing" or "crossroads."

The city and its history are inseparable. Unless there is evidence that the logo influences how Las Cruces treats citizens or how it is perceived, I am inclined to leave the logo alone. Supporting the separation of church and state does not require ignoring the influence of religion on some aspects of American history.

posted by J. | 6:40 PM