Atheists Lose Battle Over Highway Crosses. But Could They Still Win the War?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," November 27, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: In an update to a story we brought to you just two weeks ago, a group of atheists lost their battle with the state of Utah over 14 steel cross highway memorials.

The American Atheists claimed that the crosses represent the death of Jesus, violating the U.S. Constitution, but a U.S. district court ruled that the crosses send a secular, not a religious message. The crosses will stay for now, but the atheist groups have announced its plan to appeal the ruling.

Joining us now from the Alliance Defense Fund, senior counsel Mike Johnson, and the president of the American Atheists, Ellen Johnson.

What's this — what's the big deal? Our country — this country's founding document says, "We are endowed by our Creator." That must drive you nuts.

ELLEN JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ATHEISTS: Well, the Constitution trumps that document when it comes to the laws. In fact, what we want is we want the most fabulous memorial that you could come up with for these troopers.

HANNITY: Freedom of religion.

E. JOHNSON: But we want one that doesn't violate, that respects...

HANNITY: No government exercise, the free exercise thereof...

E. JOHNSON: ...That respects the laws and respects the diversity of troopers who have died. These religious memories, these religious displays do not do that.

HANNITY: Let me impact, does this impact your life? Do you really care? I mean, would you like to, for example, Arlington National Cemetery, do you want to take away crosses there?

E. JOHNSON: No, because it's a cemetery. The highway...

HANNITY: Who owns it? Who owns it?

E. JOHNSON: The highways in America are not cemeteries.

HANNITY: There are many — there are many government cemeteries where you can see the crosses from the road. That must really drive you nuts.

E. JOHNSON: No, it doesn't drive me nuts.

HANNITY: But that's my point. This shouldn't drive you nuts. Why do you care, except that this is a personal issue, and you can't stand it that this country is founded on these principles, "endowed by our Creator"?

E. JOHNSON: No. The country was founded on secular principles.

HANNITY: Excuse me, you're wrong.

E. JOHNSON: You have the separation...

HANNITY: Freedom of religion.

E. JOHNSON: Let's get back to these religious displays.

MIKE JOHNSON, SENIOR COUNSEL, ALLIANCE DEFENSE FUND: Sean, Sean, there's another side to this, of course. The case is very simple at its core. All Americans should have the right to honor their fallen heroes as they choose. That's what this case is about. That's what the federal court acknowledged.

E. JOHNSON: You can't do it on public property.

M. JOHNSON: And that's why we prevailed.

E. JOHNSON: You have to do — no, you cannot.

HANNITY: Yes, you can, actually. In case you didn't hear the judge's ruling, you guys lost.

E. JOHNSON: He will — that will be overturned.

HANNITY: You lost.

E. JOHNSON: If you were to put up a roadside memorial right now on the highway's new toll road, the highway patrol would take it off. Let's come together. I'm urging you...

HANNITY: Hang on a second, Ellen. You lost the case. You know what frustrates me about you and a lot of liberals today is...

COLMES: The liberals.

HANNITY: All right. You and the liberals. What frustrates me is you guys are intolerant. You can't stand the fact that people...

E. JOHNSON: Let's come together. I'm urging the Alliance Defense Fund and the Utah Highway Patrol Association to work with us to come together...


ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Here's your problem with this case. Mike...

E. JOHNSON: Mormons don't recognize the Christian cross. Jews aren't going to put their name on a Christian cross.

COLMES: Ellen, Mike, here's what this case is about, and here's how it was decided. This was decided on — let me ask you a question, Mike. Is the cross a religious symbol?

M. JOHNSON: Alan, we've been over this.

COLMES: No. Answer my question. Is it a religious symbol?

M. JOHNSON: That's not what they ruled here.

COLMES: They ruled in this case in your favor on the basis...

M. JOHNSON: You have to look at it — and in this context, it can be the case of a secular message.

COLMES: Mike, you're avoiding the issue.

E. JOHNSON: Why would a Jewish...

COLMES: Hold on. Hold on one second. They ruled on this case by claiming that the cross is not a religious symbol. The cross, as I understand it, represents the crucifixion of Christ. Isn't it insulting to a religion to say that's not a religious symbol?

M. JOHNSON: No, Alan, this is a simple case. It's about the right of all Americans to honor their fallen heroes as they choose. These are private memorials, completely funded by volunteer donation.

COLMES: It's on public property. But they ruled that the cross is not a religious symbol. Do you agree with that?

M. JOHNSON: No, Alan. That is not what the judge ruled.

COLMES: It's exactly what he ruled.

M. JOHNSON: It is a religious symbol...

COLMES: Exactly.

M. JOHNSON: But in this context, it can have a secular message.

COLMES: But you're denying what he ruled.


E. JOHNSON: But, but ask a Jewish family...

COLMES: Hold on, Mike, one second.

E. JOHNSON: Michael, were you going to have — do you think a Jewish family is going to put the name of a Jewish trooper on a Christian cross or an atheist family will or a Mormon family?

M. JOHNSON: They can — those — those families...Listen, Ellen, I'll give you an answer.

E. JOHNSON: They're not going to do it, because it's a religious symbol.

COLMES: Go ahead.

M. JOHNSON: Alan, the Constitution supports every family's right to honor their fallen heroes as they choose. These are state troopers who died in the line of duty. These families want to honor these troopers in this way.

COLMES: So you would support — if some family wanted — if a family wanted a star and crescent, you'd be OK with that, Mike?

E. JOHNSON: You'd be the first one to...

M. JOHNSON: Yes, the family — every family has a right.

COLMES: Would you be OK with it?

E. JOHNSON: Alan, the problem here, Alan, if I may. The atheists here are trying to act like...

COLMES: Will you be OK with a star and crescent? I just want to be sure.

M. JOHNSON: ... decisions of these families.

COLMES: You'd be OK with a start and crescent?

M. JOHNSON: A star and crescent would be fine. It would be no less constitutional, Alan.


E. JOHNSON: But the families have to abide by all the Utah — the Department of Transportation laws. Like everyone has to abide by.

COLMES: Alrightwe've got to run. We — we thank you both for the good debate.

Coming up, the man known as the Yale Taliban gets friendly on FaceBook with one of the Democratic presidential candidates. Who was it? We'll tell you when we come back.

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