Today In Church-State News.

Item No. 1: The Supreme Court ruled that a cross erected on federal land in the Mojave Desert to honor war dead from World War I can stay.

Item No. 2: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, fresh from his Confederate History Month debacle, sought to reach out to people not like him by reversing a policy instructing state police chaplains to offer only nonsectarian prayers at department-sponsored events. Now, the chaplains will be able to talk all they want about Jesus at these official events, making clear to everyone just who the state believes is the one true god.

What ties these two pieces of news together is the common belief among those not just in the numerical majority, but also in a position of dominance, that forcing everybody to live by rules and customs that privilege your particular perspective is just the natural thing to do. When the Court heard the Mojave cross case, justice Antonin Scalia was amazed that anyone could think a cross was particularly Christian -- he felt it just honored everybody, and couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that non-Christians might not see it that way. That position of dominance, as I wrote at the time, "means knowing that your culture is the culture, your symbols ought to be accepted by everybody, and your preferences and needs should simply be the default position for all. It's the reason Scalia can't understand why Jews or Muslims or Hindus might not feel that a cross honors them. It's the reason Sen. John Kyl recently scoffed at a proposal to require insurers to cover maternity costs, saying, 'I don't need maternity care (to which Sen. Debbie Stabenow replied, 'I think your mom probably did'). It's what racial, ethnic, gender, or religious privilege is all about."

You can be sure that if what was erected on that federal land in the Mojave was a giant Star of David, and the government had argued that it wasn't really religious but was just meant to honor the dead, the five conservative justices (all Catholic, incidentally) would have found it in violation of the Constitution's prohibition of government establishment of religion. And if the chaplains of the Virginia state troopers just happened to include a bunch of Muslim imams, you can bet Gov. McDonnell (who got his law degree at Pat Robertson's Regent University, where he no doubt learned that the separation of church and state is a satanic plot) would have decided that having sectarian prayers at state-sponsored events wasn't such a great idea.

But when your group is on top, those aren't things you have to worry about.

-- Paul Waldman

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