A Secular Symbol of Death

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 7, 2008 — 6 Comments

Is the Christian cross a secular symbol? That is the current opinion of Utah state officials and U.S. District Judge David Sam. This peculiar notion was reached in 2007, after local atheists challenged the placement of metal crosses along the highway to honor state highway patrol officers who died in the line of duty. Now American’s United, along with the Anti-Defamation League, the Hindu American Foundation, The Interfaith Alliance, and the Union for Reform Judaism, are challenging this ruling.

Not a secular symbol of death.

Not a secular symbol of death.

“U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled in November of 2007 that the cross is a “secular symbol of death” and held that Utah officials and the Utah Highway Patrol Association can continue to erect the 12-foot crosses. Americans United is asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court ruling. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said he is offended by the claim that the cross is merely a secular symbol. “The cross is the preeminent symbol of Christianity,” said Lynn … In its brief, AU points out that the cross has been tied to Christianity for many centuries. “In upholding the display of roadside crosses on public land throughout the State of Utah, the district court embraced the State’s characterization of the cross the clearest and most universally recognized marker of Christianity as nothing more than a ‘secular symbol of death,’” asserts the brief. ‘This conclusion is historically inaccurate, blind to contemporary realities, and offensive to believers and nonbelievers alike.'”

Officials contend that the cross is secular, not religious, and it is being used regardless of the personal religious persuasion of the fallen officer. So atheist, Mormon, Pagan, Jewish or Hindu cops would all get the giant “non-religious” cross as a memorial.

The idea that the cross is “secular” ties into the larger notion that Christian religious expression and tradition, due to its size and ubiquity, is “normal” and ultimately beneficial. The corollary is that non-Christian religious expressions or traditions are “abnormal” and considered suspect. But popularity and tradition doesn’t remove religious context from a religious symbol, instead it subtly reinforces that faith’s dominance and “right” to utter ubiquity. If the cross was truly secular, we wouldn’t have 39 different emblems of belief for military markers and headstones, nor would minority religions fight to have their own symbols added to that list.

There is no “secular symbol of death”, any more than there is a “secular symbol of life”, because a truly secular culture allows groups and individuals to choose and adapt their own symbols and instill them with meaning. When governments and judges start telling us which religious symbols are “secular”, we enter into a hierarchy of signs, where the faith(s) with the strongest cultural hold gains official sanction in all but name. Undermining the idea that government should make no law “respecting an establishment of religion”.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • HR Mitchell

    Let’s return to our pagan past and reclaim the cross for its original purpose – putting criminals to death. THEN it could be a secular symbol. Maybe. or not.

  • Seven Star Hand

    Hi HR,The crucifix is a Christian symbol that is based on the deceptive recasting of the ancient wisdom symbol, the cross. The cross, for thousands of years before Christianity’s lies, symbolized the four elements and that is something that Rome has tried to bury throughout most of its history. There is a very important reason for this, since the proper understanding of the ancient wisdom symbology of North Africa (Egypt, Nubia, etc.) completely disproves the Christian fantasy.Follow these two URLs to truly understand the lies and deceptions. They are both long “open letters,” but I think that after reading both of them, you’ll have a much better understanding of the hogwash they purvey.Please be patient with my assertions and long letters and (hopefully) I’ll surprise and enlighten you.Open Letter to Religious LeadersOpen Letter to Atheists and SkepticsPeace and Wisdom…

  • Anonymous

    I am a Christian. I associate the cross with the crucifixion of Christ. But there is one thing that can not be denied by Christian nor non-Christian. The cross was used as a medium of death long before the birth of Jesus. I don’t believe the Romans used it as a secular symbol of death. It simply was a cruel and painful means of killing someone. Even when Jesus was nailed to one that was the Roman’s purpose. They did not crucify him on two logs crossed over each other and attached together by rope or nails because it would be making a religious symbol. It was the equivalent of today’s lethal needle or electric chair. One exception: today man generally uses his tools of execution to hasten the moment of death. But whatever method is used, there is no Christian symbology intended; nor is there a secular symbology.

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