RUNYAN: Biden’s Next Target: Christian Displays Honoring Our Veterans

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Danielle Runyan Contributor
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An anti-religious group recently made the legally baseless claim that a Latin cross incorporating emblems of the military branches displayed in a public waiting area of an Austin, Texas Veterans’ Affairs clinic violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and must be removed.

While the claim is frivolous, the fact that Biden’s Executive Branch continues to hastily accommodate such anti-religious rhetoric (in this instance, the metal cross was removed from the VA clinic’s public waiting area within 90 minutes) is yet another demonstration of its hostility toward religion—specifically Christianity.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long acknowledged that religious displays on public property are government speech, not private speech. The government is under no requirement to use viewpoint neutrality in its own speech and is entitled to make content-based choices. This is true even in the instance of displays involving religious subject matter.

The case that most clearly demonstrates this point is a 2019 victory achieved by First Liberty Institute, American Legion v. American Humanist Association. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court determined that it is presumptively constitutional for a 32-foot-tall Latin cross dedicated to the sacrifices made by World War I veterans to remain on public land in the State of Maryland. Justice Thomas explained that “The plaintiff claiming an unconstitutional establishment of religion must demonstrate that he was actually coerced by government conduct that shares the characteristics of an establishment as understood at the founding,” and that the Bladensburg Cross is “constitutional even though the cross has religious significance.”

Yet, despite this decision, only weeks ago, at the behest of the same anti-religious group that challenged the constitutionality of the cross hanging at the Austin, Texas VA clinic, the Merchant Marine Academy superintendent covered up, and eventually relocated, the 1944 painting “Jesus and Lifeboat,” which honors mariners lost at sea during World War II. Disgracefully, the painting was initially covered with a curtain within three hours of the Academy receiving a complaint that improperly alleged that the location of the painting violated the U.S. Constitution. However, the room where the painting hung served as the Academy’s interfaith chapel from 1942 to 1961 and the painting itself was a government display, not a private one.

Criticizing the Academy’s actions, Senator Ted Cruz made clear in his February 2023 letter to the Academy’s superintendent, Joanna Nunan, that maintaining a religious display on government property does not share any of the historical characteristics of an establishment of religion. For anyone to suggest that the painting or any other similarly situated monument or display poses an apparent conflict with the separation of church and state is, in Senator Cruz’s words, “an objective absurdity.”

One need only look to the official motto of the United States— “In God We Trust” —proudly displayed on American currency to understand that our nation’s attachment to God is an integral part of our rich history and tradition. More specifically, Christianity has been inextricably intertwined with our military since the Chaplain Corps was established in 1775 when the Continental Congress authorized one chaplain for each regiment of the Continental Army. Nearly 250 years later, our military’s continued reliance on chaplains to tend to the spiritual and moral well-being of service members and their families demonstrates the unrelenting importance and necessity of religion in our armed services.

Whether the issue is displacing religious citizens from government employment during the COVID-19 pandemic or the recent removal of religious content from public lands, one of the hallmarks of the Biden administration has been hostility toward religion. Despite the VA in 2019 revising “its directives permitting religious literature, symbols, and displays at VA facilities to protect religious liberty for Veterans and families while ensuring inclusivity and nondiscrimination,” the present VA leadership is choosing cancel culture and disregarding its own policies about “the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans and its consistency with Constitutional principles.”

At a time when our national security is hanging in the balance and patriotic Americans are opting out of serving in our military, perhaps it’s time for a healthy dose of history and tradition rather than hasty appeasement of baseless demands launched by anti-religious organizations to satisfy a woke and, frankly, dangerous agenda.

Danielle Runyan serves as Counsel for First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm exclusively dedicated to defending religious liberty for all Americans. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.