Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Atheists Bring Down a Historic Cross in Santa Clara, CA

In the Santa Clara WEEKLY that I picked up yesterday, I learned that atheist activists won yet another battle locally to eradicate religious symbols from public life.  Removal of Park Cross: City Cave-in or Prudent Compromise? described the removal from city property of a 14 foot granite cross that stood in the Mission Cross Park in Santa Clara for nearly 64 years. 

Much pressure is being put on cities to remove Christian religious symbols. Sometimes even when Christian images are banned, by some lapse of logic, pagan idols are not. Near where I live in San Jose, for example, nativity scenes were forbidden for a while in the yearly Christmas in the Park event. Wrap your mind around that idea for a second: scenes of the birth of Christ were not being allowed at a Christmas event! What made the situation even more irrational is Christmas in the Park is held in the same city park that features a sculpture of an Aztec god. That offensive sculpture is not only a homage to Quetzalcoatl but is notorious for its distastefully scatalogical appearance. (See Mama! Mira! Caca en la Plaza! for more about that particular waste of taxpaper money.)

So it's distressing to see the intolerance spread to Santa Clara. The Mission Park Cross in Santa Clara was erected by the Lion's Club in 1953 to mark the second location of the Mission Santa Clara de Asis established by Franciscan missionaries in 1779. The article noted that local residents are protesting that the public was not aware of the decision until the cross was gone, and the WEEKLY did not know either until a local resident, Gary Sudano notified the press. Sudano was upset with the City for giving away the cross, stating, "There was no news locally that this was going to be done–and the cross was suddenly gone."

A photo in the article shows Sudano along with a few others, standing around the empty 8' x 8' square of concrete on which the cross used to stand but which was left behind, taking up lawn space, looking useless and ugly.

The historic significance of the Mission Park Cross is obvious. The mission is part of the identity of the city of Santa Clara, which got its name from a mission that was founded by Franciscan missionaries as part of the chain of missions started by sainted Friar Juñipero Serra.  

The first Santa Clara Mission site on the Guadalupe River was flooded out in 1779. a second temporary mission was soon built at Martin Avenue and De La Cruz Boulevard on the now-buried Mission Creek, at a site about 1,300 feet away from the first site. St. Juñipero Serra himself blessed the second, temporary, church on November 11, 1779. 

For a time during the twentieth century, two competing sites claimed to be the second site.  One of the contending locations, which turned out actually to be the third site, is on Franklin Street and Campbell Avenue in Santa Clara. The adobe mission complex built on the third site fell in an earthquake in 1818. Another temporary mission was built on a fourth site, until construction at a fifth and final site began in 1822.

The fourth and fifth sites are now incorporated into the restored Mission Santa Clara, which serves as the chapel of the University of Santa Clara.
Long shot of Mission Santa Clara
My Mission Santa Clara Quick Sketch

According to the story in this week's Santa Clara WEEKLY, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court about the Mission Cross on April 20, 2016. The complaint was brought up at the City Council meeting of November 22, 2016, supported by Andrew DeFaria, a Santa Clara resident, who is an FFRF member and co-plaintiff on the lawsuit.

Cowed by the fear of protracted legal fees if they fought to have the cross retained as a historical marker, the city council voted on what some claim was a good compromise. They voted to give the cross to Santa Clara University. A donor paid to move it from the park. The cross is now in storage, but the university plans to find a place for it to be displayed again. 

The compromise neglects to acknowledge that the cross was created to mark a particular historic spot, and it will lose its significance when it is erected in a new spot. What is the new plaque going to read? 

"This cross used to mark the second location of the Mission Santa Clara de Asis at Mission Cross Park. The Freedom From Religion organization forced this cross' removal from city property.  The university was willing to give the cross a new home, which is why you are seeing it here."

The FFRF claims the constitution and reason were served. On the contrary, the constitution does not say that separation of church and state means that that we cannot display religious symbols in public. But the haters got to hate, and in this case as in many others, a misinterpretation of the constitution was forced on a city by threats of litigation, so fears of depleted city coffers won the day.

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