Are you up on your New Orleans happenings? Mayor Mitch Landrieu has prevailed in the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and will begin removing the statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.T.G. Beauregard, all heroes of the Confederacy. In an interview with NPR, Landrieu linked removal of the monuments to the city’s efforts to rebuild after Katrina.
And so the thought of the people of the city – and I share this thought – is that as we rebuild the city of New Orleans, we ought to rebuild it in a way that reflects our whole history, that’s inviting and that it’s open and not one that continues to cast shadows over a group of people where the message is still sent that, look, we didn’t even think that you were fully formed human persons and we think that the Confederacy was the right way to govern America. Those messages were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.
The same thing is happening and has been happening all over the country.
In 2016, the ACLU sued the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to remove the cross from the county seal, saying it was unconstitutional because it favored Christianity over other religions. The city founded by Jesuit priests who called it the city of “angels” is no longer allowed to honor the Jesuits’ efforts and sacrifices.
(About that favoring one religion over other thing, the parents of a high school student in Maryland have filed a lawsuit against the school for “subjecting their teenage daughter to Islamic indoctrination and propaganda” The suit alleges that she was required to profess the Muslim statement of faith and memorize the Five Pillars of Islam whereas the teacher made “disparaging remarks about Christianity and the Pope.” But whatevs.)
Also in 2016, Kentucky removed a Confederate statue that was adjacent to the University of Louisville. A professor of Pan-African Studies said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am,” calling the statue a “towering granite and bronze eyesore glorifying the nadir of America’s past.” For now, the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom were born in Kentucky, that stand in the state’s Capitol rotunda are safe, although there has already been one unsuccessful attempt to remove the statue of Davis.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma ruled that a Ten Commandments monument on the capitol grounds could be removed because it violated the state’s constitutional prohibition against the use of private property to support “any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.” It was removed in the dead of night.
The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP wants the state to sandblast images of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson off of Stone Mountain.
The UN urged the Obama Administration to return to the Lakota Sioux land they consider sacred because on it sits Mt. Rushmore, “symbol of white supremacy and genocide.”
If not in the ACLU’s sights already, the prayer said in the U.S. House of Representatives before every session soon will be.
Believe it or not, I understand the impulse to protect formerly harmed groups of people and non-Christians from the imposition of Christianity in the public square. When I moved from ultra liberal San Francisco to ultra conservative (at the time) San Diego, I attended a networking meeting for healthcare administrators at a local hotel. The meeting opened with a minute of silence that was so obviously code for prayer that I fumed for the next two hours.
But that was when I saw the world in terms of oppressors and victims, a result of studying imperialist, racist America for four years at Berkeley. When I left the Berkeley bubble, became a mother, and aged 20 years, I began to see it differently. I still have empathy for formerly harmed groups of people, but I think it’s a far better idea to revisit all the Confederate monuments and add a more complete history of the event they commemorate and the people it harmed. That’s history. Even if we erase it, we can’t change it.
As far as Mt. Rushmore, I have a lot of anger and sorrow for the way the Sioux (and every other tribe) were treated by early Americans. At the same time, you can’t un-ring that bell. Rather than losing a monument that is at least as sacred to patriotic Americans as is the land underneath it to the Sioux, can’t we expand what it commemorates? It’s not the return of sacred lands, and for that I am truly sorry, but can we not honor the Sioux by telling their story at the monument as well? That’s history. Even if we erase it, we can’t change it.
It seems so short-sighted to erase history because we judge the beliefs of its people by today’s standards. Do we want our beliefs to be judged by the standards of a future society? Not so very long ago, Barack Obama opposed gay marriage. Will he have to be erased as well? (My husband says, “Hopefully.”) We’re too quick to remove evidence of our injustices because we’ve lost sight of the justices. The rightful attainment of moral and civil rights by all groups in our society is such a given, it becomes unremarkable, and we slip into criticism-only mode.
What we also can’t change is our Judeo Christian heritage. The Pilgrims came here seeking religious freedom, for heaven’s sake. I still don’t know how I feel about a moment of silence in a networking meeting, but it was a private organization, and I had the option of excusing myself. To remove the Ten Commandments in Oklahoma and the cross on the Los Angeles County seal is to deny that Judeo Christian values cannot be separated from the story of America: put God before self; practice charity, service, and humility; do unto others; care for the widows and orphans, turn the other cheek, lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth; love thy neighbor as thyself; forgive one another and seek God’s forgiveness.
We are no longer a Christian majority country, and we are more and more secular all the time. But the legacy of those values lives on. For instance, Americans are the most generous people in the world—and may I point out the Utah is the most generous state? That’s not an accident.
We have our sins, our flaws, and our black eyes. We also have our freedoms, our work ethic, and our optimism. All I’m asking is that we tell the whole story of everything.