NORMANDY, France – Everyone remembers the iconic opening scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan, where Matt Damon's character walks through rows and rows of crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery looking for the grave of his former comrade-in-arms.
Now a group of atheists is suing to have all those crosses, part of the 125,000 maintained around the world by the American Battle Monuments Commission, removed on the grounds that they constitute a government endorsement of religion and violate the First Amendment.
Bill Weinberger, founder of the Military Foundation for Religious Freedom (MFRF), has filed the suit in a U.S. federal court. Weinberger explained his amazement that the U.S. government was paying to maintain what he called "overtly Christian religious symbols" in the 21st century.
Relating his experience on a recent trip to France, Weinberger said, "I was walking through Normandy, paying my respects, when I suddenly saw all these crosses in a field. I thought, 'This is weird. Is there some sort of Christian revival going on?' Then one of the officials said they were military graves."
Weinberger said he was first astounded, then outraged. "These thousands of men were being allowed to endorse their religion on the government's dime on government land. If they wanted to die for whatever god they believed in, that's fine, but that doesn't mean I have to look at it. Honestly, it's like Hitler won the war."
The MFRF's lawsuit argues that since the cemetery land has been granted in perpetuity to the United States and since their upkeep is paid for by the U.S. they should be subject to previously-establishment bans on a government endorsement of religion.
It has already won a victory in a lower district court that "all overtly religious symbols" must be removed from U.S. military cemeteries immediately and replaced by nondenominational and environmentally friendly headstones which double as solar panel collectors.
Pending an appeal, that judge has also placed an immediate injunction on all visitors entering these cemeteries, to ensure they do not come away with the false impression that there is some sort of Christian connection to the overwhelmingly secular U.S. military.
Legal experts have said that the ruling should not affect many domestic military cemeteries, which commonly use headstones. However, the MFRF has asked that the two crosses marking the graves of Robert and Edward Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery be replaced with something less controversial, such as a monument to the subjugation of transgendered Native Americans.
The MFRF has added that in response to charges that their organization was targeting Christians, they had amended their lawsuit to also have Stars of Davids removed from all U.S. military headstones.
According to its website, the MFRF was founded in 2006 to promote tolerance between people of different faiths in the armed forces and "cocksucking Nazi Christian dipshits".
Over the last eight years it has worked to achieve that by harassing cadets at the Air Force Academy, banning religious preferences from dogtags, and trying to cancel Christmas.