Memorial Day becomes religious battleground

Streeter Lecka GETTY IMAGES Is there a way to re-think battles over how we remember the fallen? Monday, May 28th … Continued

Streeter Lecka


Is there a way to re-think battles over how we remember the fallen?

Monday, May 28th is not only Memorial Day, but the day when the Liberty Institute will ramp up the fight over religious symbols in military cemeteries and memorials. Monday will see the official release of a new song and accompanying video called “Don’t Tear Me Down” and once again, Americans motivated by some quite honorable desires, will tear each other down at a moment we should be building each other up.

The catchy tune and touching images of veterans’ faces, are actually pretty moving, however one feels about the ongoing battles over the Mt. Soledad Veterans’ Memorial, or any of the other battles The Liberty Institute has been waging in the courts, for years, with the both ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The latter two organizations want to see the symbols and statues removed, and the Liberty Institute has fought for their preservation.

Unfortunately, neither side seems terribly concerned about the real impact of their actions on those who don’t share their beliefs. For the ACLU and FFRF, that has meant a headlong march to strip religious symbols out of locations where their presence brings great comfort and meaning to the families and friends of thousands of fallen heroes. No, not to all, but to many and probably to most.

Don’t get me wrong, the principle of separation of church and state for which the ACLU fights, and the right of people to be free from religious coercion of any kind, are not simply good ideas that also happen to appear in our Constitution. They are bedrock principles without which America would not be America and its citizens would not enjoy the life we do. They are principles which must be defended as much as any border which defines our sense of who we are as a nation. But the question is how that defense is mounted.

Securing the rights of some by stripping away those of others is a dicey process, and one for which both the ACLU and FFRF advocate all too easily. They litigate to get rid of things which could often be accommodated, if the human needs and sensitivities were genuinely respected. Unfortunately, they seem to prefer a rather sanctimonious winner-take-all approach.

Just as unfortunately, is that with the release of their new music video especially, the Liberty Institute falls into the same trap as their opponents. In fact, whether intentional or not, the lyrics are every bit as arrogant as the actions opposed by the Liberty Institute, and maybe even more offensive.

With the constantly repeated words “I was there” sung as a variety of famous battles are mentioned, the song suggests that those opposed to religious symbolism are somehow less concerned about these battles and how to properly honor those who fell in them. That’s just wrong. Not to mention the threat implicit in suggesting that the ACLU and FFRF should, in the words of the song, “just walk away in the name of peace.” Again, it’s just wrong.

Both sides in this ongoing battle are actually motivated by some very good things, but each fails to see that the principles for which they are fighting are not as important as the real lives of the people these memorials commemorate. Perhaps both sides could rethink their actions this Memorial Day, especially as it is a day whose origins lie in the desire to honor the Union dead of the Civil War, and came to include all fallen soldiers, including those who fell on the side of the Confederacy.

As we honor fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, perhaps it’s time for both the Liberty Institute, the ACLU and the FFRF to commit themselves to a new mission: figuring out how to honor the memories, and respect the families, of those same fallen heroes regardless of how they feel about their beliefs. On Memorial Day, if not on every day, we owe them at least that.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
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