THE GAZETTE (COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO.) (TNS)

Give thanks for the First Amendment, which could save us from a dangerous ruling by two activists on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A 2-1 ruling declared the 40-foot Peace Cross, a historic veterans’ memorial, a crime scene. The two confused judges want the cross to come down. They said the 90-year-old memorial, at a Maryland intersection near Washington, D.C., sets a “dangerous precedent” by entangling the government in religion.

Somehow we have lived with this cross since the American Legion and a few families funded it in 1925 to honor 45 community members who died in war. In an era of diminishing influence by Christians and their increasingly empty churches, the judges fear this memorial might establish Christianity as the law of the land.

Defenders of the Peace Cross plan to petition the U.S. Supreme Court. Please, take this case. Other memorials are under similar attacks, and a ruling is needed to settle these disputes.

The first order of business in our Bill of Rights prevents government from forcing us to embrace religion. In the same sentence, the law prevents government from interfering with our freedom to exercise and express beliefs.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Nowhere does this say we must scour religion from government property, which would prohibit the free exercise of religion among those who work in public space or reside in prisons or public housing. Nowhere does it say the law favors secular art on a public canvas, at the exclusion of faith-based art.

Fourth Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory dissented in the ruling, writing the First Amendment does not require government to “purge from the public sphere any reference to religion.”

The men who wrote the First Amendment, chiefly Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, had no intention of a law that would cleanse public space of religious messages.

If we have separation of church and state, the state had best remove all those cross-shaped headstones in Arlington Cemetery — at the risk of civil war.

By protecting religious liberty for more than 200 years, we have avoided routine destruction of religious art by bigots who hate religion.

The founders did not enact the establishment clause to protect government space from sights and sounds of religion. They did not set out to give secularist expressions special privilege over other forms of free speech.

Instead, founders precluded federal government from favoring one or more religions and excluding others. They wrote the free exercise clause to prevent future judicial activists and others in authority from interfering in the free exercise of religion on public or private space. They sought to protect all religious expression, which includes the Peace Cross.

If government destroys this veterans’ memorial, it will damage freedom of speech and religion at an expense to nonbelievers and the faithful alike. We all need the First Amendment. So hope, or pray, the Supreme Court saves the Peace Cross.