The law versus religion

By Phil Plait | December 9, 2006 6:24 pm

Note: NASA will attempt to launch the Shuttle again Saturday night at 20:47 Eastern time. There is only a 30% chance of the weather being good enough for launch, though. NASA successfully launch the Space Shuttle STS-116 into orbit tonight at 8:47 p.m. Eastern time, despite earlier worries that weather would delay it again. This was the first night launch in four years. On a personal note, only one TV station carried the launch in my area, and they cut off the segment 30 seconds after launch. Grrrrr. Now to your regularly scheduled BABlog post.

Take a look at this picture:

That image, from The Desert Sun, a Palm Springs newspaper, shows a 30-foot high aluminum cross loaded with 39 compact fluorescent light bulbs (13 Watts each). It sits on a hill high above Palm Desert (about 14 miles from Palm Springs), is owned by a local church, and can be seen for miles.

And therein lies the problem. The cross violates several local and state ordinances about light pollution. As the article points out, it is six times brighter than allowed for local Palm Desert law, and is too close to Mt. Palomar (home of the giant 200 inch telescope) — any bright lights within 45 miles of the venerable observatory are supposed to be shut off for most of the night. The cross, however, stays lit.

The article quotes some legal folks, who say this is complicated. I’m not so sure. The laws seem pretty clear. And there is more– the owners were supposed to get a permit to make any changes to the cross, but the old wooden one was replaced with the current aluminum one without such a permit. I suspect the bulbs fall under the category of needing a permit as well.

The irony here is that religion is messing up the situation, when it shouldn’t be. Here is one quotation:

Ron Garret, a professor of law and religion at the University of Southern California, points to federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which bans state and local governments from discriminating against religious institutions in the application of zoning laws.

I don’t see it as discrimination to tell a church to turn down or turn off its lights which violate the law. In fact, it’s discrimination if they don’t, against anyone who is not a church who has bright lights.

The article quotes the church rector, who muddies the issue:

“The great genius of the founding of this country was to have a tolerance and open acceptance of all faiths,” said Certain. “It’s not an open acceptance of faith to say you have to hide your symbol.”

The phrase "apropos of nothing" comes to mind. Why?

The First Amendment does say that Congress shall make no law that prohibits the free exercising of religion, certainly. But that has limits. For example, if someone has a religion that says they must eat live kittens, how long do you think that would last? What the Constitution is saying, I think, is that no laws can be made against religion specifically. The church is in violation of general laws, to which it must remain bound. The rector can talk about faith all he likes — another First Amendment freedom — but it has nothing to do with this situation.

The problem isn’t about any show of faith, or religious freedoms, or whether a cross can be displayed (except for the permit violations, which I bet could be solved easily). The real problem is just with the lights. If the church simply turned down the lights there would be no issue.

Instead of tangling up legal and religious issues, maybe the church should go out and buy some dimmer bulbs.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one thinking clearly about this. Sometimes I think I’m taking crazy pills.

Tip o’ the mitre to Fark. And be ye fairly warned, says I: lots of silliness and purposely immature banter at that link.

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Comments (127)

  1. Vertigo

    Don’t worry, you aren’t the crazy one. But applying those same laws that apply to each and every person normally against a church is anti-Christianity.

    I wonder how long a giant Crescent or Pentagram would last on that hill?

  2. Michelle Rochon

    Heck, this ain’t about religion at all! It’s about following the law so we can see the stars! The first amendment does not apply since the law is NOT to discriminate them. It’s about preserving the SKIES!

    And I didn’t know the bible said you need to keep gigantic overlit crosses that bloat out the stars.

    Sigh. They’re just using religion to get their way.

  3. Whitehouse

    cnn carried the launch. Awesome. Just Awesome.

  4. You know, it seems to me that any church like that should have plenty of dim-bulbs around…

  5. Tensor

    I can’t imagine I’m the only one thinking clearly about this. Sometimes I think I’m taking crazy pills.

    I know H. G. Wells wrote in “The Country of the Blind”, “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King.” But, a paraphrase I saw (and can’t remember where now) seems to fit your situation better. “In a country of blind men, the one-eyed man is in deep trouble”

  6. Lauren

    Okay, I have to rub it in just this once: I saw the launch! I went outside and watched in light up the sky! It’s the first time I’ve seen a launch at night and it was amazing.

    The thing with the cross is a little silly. So what if they decide to put up a cross. I don’t think it’s very polite to put bright lights on it, espeically since there is an observatory too far away. Wouldn’t dimmer bulbs work for the church as well?

  7. Grand Lunar

    I saw the launch as well. CNN broadcast it, and longer than 30 seconds.

    You’d think those people would use either dimmer bulbs or a shroud (would that help at all?).

    Talk about being inconsiderate.
    And I bet the religious community will see the oppisition to the lighting as some ant-religious message. Propoganda hay will undoubtedly circulate cyberspace in short order.

  8. Neo

    And God said, “Let there be light”. And so the good people of earth went around and decorated their aluminum crosses with 13-watt flourescent bulbs. One can only assume it is pleasing to God that we decorate crosses with light bulbs. You can’t really expect them to try to use a man made law to cancel God’s will can you?

  9. gary ansorge

    I really like the idea of putting up a big sign of the great spagetti monster, with, of course, all lighting shining away from the observatory, straight into the church rectory,,,,,call it the War of the Lights,,,

    Dang, I missed the launch again??? Bummer!

    Gary 7

  10. What an entirely rational and fair post. I wish the BA would say something I could disagree with- you know- once in a while.

    I have to say that I’d be annoyed even if the cross were nowhere near the observatory.

    Isn’t enough that people get to say religious symbols littering the streets in daylight? Can’t we leave the night-sky alone? Do people have to put neon signs up now shouting their religious belief at passers by?

    Aren’t the stars infinitely greater than any man-made religious symbol?

  11. Swez

    This really sounds very foolish to complain about a Church which is showing its banner in a unique and creative way. Imagine a handfull of 13 watt lights in the desert doing any real harm to an observatory, 45 miles away.

    Does this ruling apply to shopping malls that light their parking areas all night with hundreds of high intensity lamp systems? I don’t think so. Nor would it apply to a car dealership, restaurant or shopping venue that uses high powered search lights to draw attention to a grand opening or some special event they are currently promoting… but these are OK right? (Because they serve a secular purpose)

    One thing secular people don’t get here, the more a good Church takes heat from a secular society, the faster it grows and multiplies. This is a well know phenomena. It’s much harder to be a true Christian than most will ever realize. Christians are likened to salmon and have to swim up stream, all the time. But that is what builds character, faith and trusting in things that are much bigger than any mere man can achieve on their own.

    In the mean time, “Keep whining folks… it’s good for Church growth” !!!

  12. skeptigirl

    http://www.cfif.org/htdocs/legal_issues/legal_activities/policy_papers/sign_ordinances.pdf
    But, as explained by the U.S. Supreme Court, signs and billboards possess both “communicative and noncommunicative aspects” and, as a consequence, while “the government has legitimate interests in controlling the noncommunicative aspects of the medium, . . . the First and Fourteenth Amendments foreclose a similar interest in controlling the communicative aspects.”4 Thus, “because regulation of the noncommunicative aspects of a medium often impinges to some degree on the communicative aspects, it has been necessary for the courts to reconcile the government’s regulatory interests with the individual’s right to expression.”

    This is why one can control the light pollution from that cross without violating the First Amendment. If made clear to the church by explaining the above rationale, it might reach someone at the church with common sense.

    On the other hand if they are a congregation of Phred Phelps, they may just feel screaming Jesus out loud is their life’s calling. In that case, time to hire the lawyers.

    My brothers and my dad went to watch the Shuttle land many years ago. I’m still envious. But I got to see one of the Space Capsules in the Smithsonian. That was pretty kool! It looks burned. Simply amazing.

  13. ewodrich

    I wonder how many people sympathizing with the idea of “truning down or removing the 39 13-watt light bulbs on a hill” actually live in the area in question. I haven’t seen *ANYONE* mention the thousands and thousands of watts of light pollution that light up the skies for tens of miles in every direction coming from the San Miguel Indian Casino in Cabazon, CA. This casino, like the cross in question is blocked from the view of Mt. Palomar by a massive mountain range. Which do you think causes light pollution that is the more visible. Would you advocate removing the lighting from the casino too? If not, than this is just another attack on Christianity and as such it has no merit whatsoever.

    How about talking about astronomy related subjects like the X9 and X6 solar flares that came of the sun on December 5th and 6th, 2006. Wouldn’t that type of subject be much more apropo?

    Regards,

    Ed

  14. oldamatuerastronomer

    To answer an earlier post.

    Having the cross lit as it is can indeed effect the observatory 45 miles away! After all the 200 inch telescope at Mt. Palomar is at least 600,000 times more sensitive to light than the human eye. That coupled with the long exposure times that it takes to resolve some objects, the light from the cross can indeed be detrimental to any studies that go on at the observatory.

    And as for the other examples given the amount of light and direction of the light can be and have been regulated. From what I’ve read the city of Tuscon, Arizona which located not too far from the Kitt Peak Observatories was asked to pass ordinances to control the amount of light the city put into the night sky and they complied. This can be done with lower powered bulbs and shields to direct the light downward where’s it’s needed and not let it leak into the skies where it’s not needed!

    As for the other tenet in the posting, that it’s harder to be a Christian nowadays than before, I hardly think so.

  15. Swez, light pollution is a very serious issue for observatories. If we let one church do it, they all can do it, and then Palomar looks like it’s sitting in the middle of Vegas.

    My whole point, if you read what I wrote, is that this law is good one and must be applied fairly. Churches, people, malls, I don’t care: they need to turn off their lights. Incidentally, I can bet you that if I lit up a statue of, say, Mohammed the same way there would be a hue and a cry.

    And I will continue to fight the foolish aspects of religion, and being able to get around the law is one of those aspects.

    Next: taxes on churches. Hmmmmm.

  16. Hey, I’m a ‘Christian’. Can I get out of paying taxes?

    And yes, it is hard to be me.

  17. Robin

    I think that if you put up a giant lighted likeness of Mohammed light pollution would become the least of your problems!

  18. JustAl

    If the law is in place already, this is not a First Amendment issue – that applies only to creating laws that prohibit a religion from its expression, and regulates only the “state” (goverment). A church that violates exisiting laws is, quite simply, violating exisiting laws. If they want to claim that state laws are a violation of their First Amendment rights, then they need to file that with the courts. That’s due process. Until the law is struck down, they are plainly, and willfully, in violation.

    Additionally, they would have a hard time establishing that they are being victimized by said law. Nothing is prohibiting them from choosing another method of advertising their wares – they simply cannot do so in a manner that interferes with other peoples’ uses of the area. That precedent has been established countless times in the past.

    “Unique and creative way”? Swez, you make me laugh. If that’s what is considered unique and creative, then it’s not surprising you’re having a problem finding converts. And yes, I feel for your horrendous persecutions, believe me. But to address your junk science, look up in the sky when it’s clear, on the darkest night you can find. Look at Orion. See the nebulas? No? Me neither – it takes long exposures to gather the minimal light from them, yet that constellation is chock full of them. See that “unique and creative” cross? Yes? Then there’s your problem. And light pollution goes a long way.

    Instead of the church complaining about its ability to commercially advertise, perhaps it should use the money for the cross and electricity to send an example, of a greener and more environmentally-conscious church, and use that money instead to help the disadvantaged. Hardly “unique and creative,” I know, but then again, it might help the church find its motivations again. Whining about its billboard is just crass and petty.

  19. Geroge

    Apparently, once again the fine line between arrogance and zeal goes undiscerned. Unless there is more to the circumstances, respect for the law is a Biblical mandate, to assume God wants this law violated is likely more arrogant than righteous.

  20. schower

    “But that is what builds character, faith and trusting in things that are much bigger than any mere man can achieve on their own.”

    Where did the concept of God even come from? In ancient civilizations, “God” was what made the sun shine (as it revolved around the Earth), the rain fall, and he threw lightning bolts down from clouds in the sky when he was angry.

    Well, guess what, buddy? The sun is a large mass of [mostly] hydrogen and helium undergoing the process of nuclear fusion whose electromagnetic waves, after an 8 minute journey, reach our atmosphere and give off their energy to the environment as either heat or visible light. The planets orbit this sun in elliptical orbits that are so easily predictable we can send robots to scour the surface of these celestial bodies. Rain falls when water droplets condense in the cold air of the upper troposphere and coalesce until they are so large that they cannot overcome the force of gravity and fall to the ground. Lightning is the result of huge potential differences between the clouds and the ground when particle collisions in clouds cause a build-up of free electrons.

    Are these concepts “bigger than any mere man can achieve on their own?” The answer is no. These are some of the most basic concepts of science and are taught to elementary school children. Among the more amazing recent scientific advancements include the ability to manipulate genes in living organisms, airplanes/helicopters/the space shuttle, and the liquid crystals and printed circuit boards that comprise the monitor and computer you use to make posts on blogs.

    Do we have the answers to the origin of the Universe? No. But we are a hell of a lot closer than any of the ancients could have imagined. As much as I know you will disagree, God serves little/no purpose in our modern world (in fact he has been the cause of countless wars and oppression throughout human history).

    /rant

    Sorry Phil, but I love science too much to let that comment go unnoticed. Keep up your good work!

  21. david

    If a law is already in effect for light pollution then the church should take down the cross or come to some agreement for limited hours to be lit up but for some reason I hear Colbert talking about the war on christmas.

  22. Arnaud

    The BBC website shows the first three minutes of the launch:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/help/3681938.stm

  23. hale_bopp

    Actually, BA, I believe depictions of Muhammad are blasphemous in Islam, so a giant statute of him is unlikely to be erected (by Muslims, at least!)

    I live in Tucson and the lighting ordinances are very strict here. It is also very nice I must say! There is a large church across the street from me and their large, lighted sign is turned off at 10pm every night, just like the CVS pharmacy next door (and I am thankful since they would shine in my bedroom window otherwise…I can sleep with my blinds open and awaken to a view of the Catalina Mountains!)

    I have also been to Flagstaff and the view from Mars Hill at night is impressive. You can really see what they are doing to fight light pollution as well.

    I spent a couple of months at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank a few years ago. The house I rented had a clause in the rental agreement that I could not have a microwave oven to prevent radio frequency interference! Guess I should have told them I belong to the Church of Microwave Cooking!

  24. hale_bopp

    Oh, forgot, I get NASA TV, so I got the whole thing to orbit! I saw several night launches when I lived in Florida and they are neat. I was in Sanford, Florida for a night launch. I watched CNN in the hotel lobby and started my stopwatch at launch and ran outside to see it. I HEARD it about 2 minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff!

    Rob

  25. Swez

    Interesting comments so far… wondering if the Church elected to put damper shields on that cross and in due effect, blanked out much of the light that goes into the region where the telescope is pointing?

    Or, on cloudy nights, the lights go on as the telescope is pretty much a non-issue?

    Am not saying this Church should not cooperate with local and regional authorities… indeed they can and should. However, Christian’s often have to choose between pleasing a small group of malcontents VS pleasing thier God and serving those who attend there…. (Oh no… did he say the “G” word here?) Yup! Who made all of what we see in nature anyway? (Stars, Sun, Moons, planets and other distant galaxies)

    Yes, it’s up for debate…. all the time. However, if there is Creation, there had to be a Creator. Ie: A supreme being that put all this in place for all to enjoy and take part in.

    Example: Say we had a Rolex watch and took it completely apart. Now, stick it in a hermetically sealed box and shook it up for 10,000 years. Would we get a fully functioning watch? Not a chance! Even if all the right components are in close proximity to each other, (The box) the watch needs some talented person to assemble everthing in a very precise order and manner, or it will never work. That’s the point… we honor the infinite watchmaker. (Not primordial ooze theories that don’t hold water)

    Anyway, to those who believe it is “easy” being a committed Christian in our whacked out society today, try it and see. It’s not all the religious rules and regulations that are so hard to manage, (Which they actually are) but it’s more difficult to turn the other cheek when others are so intent on stomping on our rights and equalities. But then again, we were forewarned… “They hated Christ and hung him on a tree” Should we expect much better?

    Finally, most Christian’s I know are very content to serve thier communities, do many good charitable deeds and help those who ask. We feed the hungry, provide clothing to those who need it, repair cars for single Mom’s who cannot afford such repairs and help our neighbors when they need a hand. “Habitat for Humanity” even builds houses for those who are in need. Is that a crime? Seems so these days. People need people and that is much of what healthy churches offer. (An no, we don’t ask a dime from those who need help) It’s a free gift.

    Not a bad deal now is it? Seem like few others are stepping up to that plate on such matters these days. We are blessed, and we use that to bless others. It doesn’t get much better than that.

    Sincerely,
    Swez

    PS There are a lot of conterfeit Christian organizations to be sure. But look at the fruit. Who’s benefiting most from a given program? That’s the best way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  26. PsyberDave

    I saw the launch from my back yard about 185 miles south. I watched though binoculars and monitored it on NASA TV via my wireless laptop. I got a couple of photos on my digital camera too. It was a little nerdy tech orgy. I’m only admitting this because I know you all accept me here 😉

    Phil, I sent you a picture of the launch from my location.

  27. Lyf

    So does that mean there above the law? I’m not question there charitable beliefs, which is good for the community, but if they want respect shouldn’t they respect the law and people’s jobs?

  28. david

    Swez the church is breaking the law, maybe there could be agreement about cloudy nights but every little amount light does effect what the telescopes sees.

  29. TheBlackCat

    Sigh, not the watchmaker argument. I will accept the watchmaker argument as soon as you show me a watch that can breed. Evolution requires reproduction. Life is life because it can reproduce. Watches can’t. Until they can the argument is meaningless.

    “However, if there is Creation, there had to be a Creator.”
    Then who created the creator? You are claiming that there cannot be creation without a creator, but the creator must have existed and thus must have been created as well.

    I await actual evidence supporting your position on this. The watchmaker argument was abandoned 150 years ago. Evidence against science will not be accepted, you need positive evidence supporting your position. I won’t hold my breath.

    As for “pleasing their God and serving those who attend there”, do you seriously think a giant lighted cross is going to please God more than spending that money on the needy? Isn’t that what Jesus said you should do? I fail to see how wasting all that money is really going to please God. Nor do I see it being that important to their congregation.

    “Seem like few others are stepping up to that plate on such matters these days.”
    You are wrong, there are a great many secular charities and aid organization doing a great amount of good.

    And giving out money does not give you the right to break the law! We live in a country bound by the rule of law. What this church is doing has nothing to do with “a few malcontents”, it has to do with following the laws everyone else is forced to follow. These laws are in place for a purpose. Belonging to some religion does not make you exempt from the law. If it was all laws would be meaningless.

  30. nate

    No, BA, you’re not on any crazy pills. I’m a Christian and I agree with you here. I’m ashamed of Christians who break laws first, whine later, and then wonder why they get attacked by everyone else. If the law had something to do with outright prohibiting of crosses then I’d be a little concerned about religious liberty. If the law is about light pollution, turn off the lights because you’re supposed to. If the changes were made without a permit, take your fine and whatever other punishment you get because you deserve it.

  31. david

    I just wish the had laws like that everywhere.

  32. Yes, it’s up for debate…. all the time. However, if there is Creation, there had to be a Creator. Ie: A supreme being that put all this in place for all to enjoy and take part in.

    Does this sound to anyone else like “Yes, it’s up for debate…all the time. Except it’s not and I’m right”?

    Please stop anthropomorphizing nature. It’s tacky.

  33. Kaptain K

    To paraphrase:

    The freedom of your light ends where the freedom of my eyes begins!

  34. Ilea

    I think Crazy Christians *not to be confused with sane ones* need to learn that they aren’t the center of the universe and that they are not above the law.

    It’s just like this thing:
    http://blog.au.org/2006/12/falwells_flub_j.html

    Crazy Christians strong-armed their way into being able to use a public schools folder system to advertize bible study. Now that other groups want to use it for the same thing they are whining about it.

  35. nobody

    it is a pagen symbol turn off the lights no offence

  36. Elf Eye

    This church is asking not for freedom from persecution but for a special privilege, and one that impinges upon other members of society. Allow me to offer an analogous example but one with a happy ending (for me, anyway). The church next to me was given a permit to enlarge its building. It received the permit with certain terms attached that would have applied to ANY group that wanted to build on that lot. For example, they had to provide adequate parking and were not allowed to park on the property of neighbors or in such a manner as to block any portion of the road, which is both heavily traveled and narrow AND features dips that make it impossible to see whether cars are approaching from the other direction. Surprise! surprise! A few months after the church expanded, I came home to find cars parked on both sides of the road so that it was reduced to one-lane. Did I complain? You bet. Was it an attack on religion? Nope. It was a traffic and safety issue: the church had created a public nuisance. Fortunately, the city treated it as such and issued a stern warning to the church reminding them of the terms of the permit. Similarly, when the church failed to maintain the tree buffer between their property and mine, also required by the terms of the permit, the city intervened. The Moral: Freedom from persecution does not equate to freedom from laws that apply to other members of a society.

  37. KingNor

    i find it a little disturbing that people are forced to tollerate a lit up, glorified torture device.

  38. Swez, you need to read two books:

    1) The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. If you’re going to use a centuries old argument, then at least see what us godless unwashed have to say about Paley’s watchmaker.

    2) A book on grammar. It’s hard to take seriously anyone who hasn’t mastered apostrophization.

  39. PK

    So that cross is sitting on a high hill in a desert, eh? Sounds like Zeus (or Thor) will sort that one out during the next lightning storm…

  40. Well I guess someone should go over and unplug that thing.

  41. Kaptain K

    1) Why is a symbol of Easter used at Christmas?

    2) How is erecting a HUGE cross on a hill and stringing lights all over it significantly different from erecting Huge cross in front of somebody’s house and setting it on fire?

  42. Jim

    If they turn it off will the church be delighted?

    And while you’re thinking about that, I watched the launch from atop our church immediately following a performance of our Christmas concert, from Merritt Island about 20 miles away. The low layer of broken clouds really added to the experience.

    So, establishing myself as a church member (Baptist, no less), I’d like to remind all that there is one major flaw in all organized religion. They are populated with people. And people there are like people everywhere. Some bad, but many good. Some drive me crazy, but most are fine decent folk, just like my fellow workers at the space center. I have some non-church friends who are just as loving and giving, and we talk (re: friendly debate!) about church issues, but still remain friends. One I first started this post, I assumed it was going to be another rant on freedom ‘from’ religion, which in itself is a form of intoerance. But as I read further, it was clear to see who is in the wrong here.

    I’m feeling a little light headed now, so I’ll end.

  43. lo

    I like your varied mix of bloglets, and pharyngula got me a bit too extreme in the past months, too little science, too much rantings and a bit too incoherent. You got my vote. Keep it up.

  44. lo

    PS: They should shall their crosses all they like, but afaik god was the only one anyways who made light, so it really shows the perverted blasphemy of todays churches 😉
    Didn`t this lavish lifestyle already lead once to the flood; how much more do they have to scorn god!

    Besides if it were for religion alone they wouldn`t even have fire!

  45. Scott G

    I dislike even the “normal” 8′-high triplet of crosses which tend to clutter up the hillsides of local churches, so you can guess my opinion of this.

    On the cooler side of things, we get NASA TV (and I had it running on the computer, too, just in case), so we got the watch the whole thing. As an added bonus, we got to see it fly past our house (so to speak). That was totally cool and very unexpected: We live on the west side of DC in the northern VA suburbs, with an uphill slope to the SE-E, so I had zero expectation of being able to see the shuttle fly past. But right on the nose (about T+7.5), a bright light went flying from SE to E above the treeline. It looked like a plane (and there are plenty of those, being right near Dulles airport), except for two things: It was orange instead of white and it was moving way too fast for something at its apparent distance (and not really in the right direction for a Dulles-based aircraft). My girls didn’t look in the right spot before it vanished behind a neighbor’s house, but my wife and I saw it and were wowed – our first ever “live” shuttle launch, and from the comfort of our bedroom 1000 miles from Cape Kennedy!

    Go NASA!

  46. The barber of civility

    As a thinking resident of the USA, and a person who tries mightily to treat others fairly, I find people and organizations that stomp on others to get their point across objectionable. As a Jew in this country, I find it odd and repugnant that the fanatics of a religion that spawned (hmmmm, interesting word!) from my own, a religion that basically keeps to itself as a prime tenant, would feel the need to lord (or is it “Lord”?) itself over others to make its point. Religion and one’s religious beliefs are very personal. Keep it that way and keep out of my face.

    The cross is not legal where it is located and in how it is designed. It appears to have been created that way intentionally. My opinion is that it is offensive and should be removed. However, I state that not because I don’t want a religious symbol shoved at me 7×24. It’s for the first reason. It is illegal.

    In regard to Swez and “However, if there is Creation, there had to be a Creator,” people on this planet create things every day. Many things are created by accident, meaning that the result came from something unplanned. Some of those things are highly complex. I refute your arguement. It is based on flawed logic (or, actually, no logic.)

    I don’t have a problem with you believing that there was a “Creator.” However, I do wish you would use better a better arguement than, “because I said so.” Based on what I see here, the vast majority of us reading and commenting in this blog require more than that to modify anything we believe in strongly. You can’t convince us with a wish. And smugness doesn’t work, either. Ever.

  47. The barber of civility

    I hate it when I miss a misspelling in my writings. Sorry, all!

  48. BH1602

    As a pastor of a small church, matters like this really bother me. I have a hard time figuring out what this congregation thinks it gains by ignoring the needs, concerns and LAWS of its community. I’m reasonably sure this church would not feel within its rights dumping garbage on neighboring property. Nobody’s cause is improved by being a lousy neighbor.

  49. Jamie

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous that a church’s inability to follow local light pollution laws is turned into a debate over creationism? I’m thinking that was the real point of Swez’s posting here, that he/she really doesn’t care one way or another about a stupid lighted cross on a hill.

  50. Melusine

    The church is being selfish and inconsiderate as well as going against the ordinance. It wouldn’t matter if it was a giant triangle or a wind turbine with lights on it (apparently a potential problem for astronomers in Pennsylvania with a proposed wind farm). Unlike the wind turbines, though, it’s worse because there is no utility to the cross – it’s just parading or advertising the church’s religion. Is it necessary that it be seen 24 hours a day? The attitude is screw everybody who might want to see the peaceful, dark silhouette of a mountainside – the heck with night-sky enthusiasts – what’s one more light on a hillside? – everybody else is doing it…blahblah.

    And here we are with ever-increasing light pollution and noise pollution because people are so damn selfish. They want to outshine or be louder than the next guy. The frickin’ vanity of humans. And really, if you believe the stars are God’s creation, then this church is just helping to mess it all up.

  51. Linda

    In a free society one has many rights, but one does not have the right to impose his “rights” on others. That is what these people are doing. How many people are on the premesis “worshiping” in the middle of the night? And why are they worshipping a 30 foot light-bright cross when they claim to worship God? They need to go back and read scripture. There is certainly no mention of aluminum cruciform worship.

  52. seaducer

    How EXACTLY is asking that a church follow local established laws persecution??

    You know what persecution is? Having a cross keyed into your new car because you have a Darwin fish sticker on the back. But then again, that guy probably dropped .50$ in the Salvation Army bucket on his way out of the store so I guess I shouldn’t complain huh? A real pillar of the community, we are lucky to have such wonderful examples of God’s Creation all around us…

    On a science note, I saw the launch on NASA tv, then walked outside in Jersey and saw what I am positive was the shuttle going by. Really neat. I must make it down to Florida for a launch before they scuttle the shuttle.

  53. Daffy

    Probably someone alreadyt said this, but isn’t it interesting that these religious zealots need to blot out “God’s” marvelous, infinite stellar creations with their tacky aluminum toy. Idiots.

  54. Gary Ansorge

    Some christians I know like to think of god as the prime mathematician, that which defined the relationship between the four basic forces that allowed this universe to unfold and produce sentience. I prefer to think of it as an evolving, composite sentience, rather like the social intelligence emergent from the complex structure of insect societeis. But just because I PREFER to see things in such a way, doesn’t make it true. It may make it poetic,,,and if others find it an attractive idea, that doesn’t mean we get to shove it down other folks throats at the point of a sword,,,or with a million candle power searchlight, for that matter.
    The church is in violation of established ordinance. They must take the lighted mostrosity down,,,

    Ah, the mystic watchmaker argument again. I haven’t read Dawkins rebuttal, but I’m sure it is entertaining.
    The watch shows the obvious marks of tools, impacting on heat treated metal, shaped and carved by other tools, which leave their impression, such that we can trace those marks back to their original tools. (Mayhap I watch Bones too much???).
    There are no such tool marks on DNA,,,
    which, by the way, is a much simpler construction material than steel, bronze, etc, being composed of only four elements, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, elements which are constrained to combine in certain limited ways, in reaction to the random input of energy. Those constraints are what allow both evolution by random change and the structural integrity to maintain a complex organism in the presence of energic systems that could destroy it. It’s a quite fascinating balancing act, with life processes lying at the bottom of an energy well, somewhat like iron at the bottom of the fission/fusion energy well,,,

    Gary 7

  55. Swez

    C. Burnham, thank you for pointing me to “The Blind Watchmaker”. I did a google search and read several commentaries and exerpts about this book. It was a good review and I can see this fellow Dawkins, has some very good arguments in his writings. He is very intelligent, has several well thought out premises and for those who can digest his ideas, a compelling argument is there for all to consider.

    Admittedly, my knowledge of punctuation and gramatical mastery are not on par with others. That may grate on those who suffered the many years it takes to master such things. However, we seem to be able to communicate on a “gut level” here. That is more important than a few poorly punctuated sentences. (Or is it?) Flawed as I may be in this area, (I need a good editor) but bear with me OK? I do not claim to be a skilled linguist. It’s not my passion in life to be expert in that field. But I do desire to put a few thoughts out there for others to consider and ponder anyway.

    In my mind, science is evolving and new things are discovered every year. That’s wonderful, but it is basically a study of the how things work and mans’ attempt to understand his surroundings. We are a curious lot and seek answers that were once a mystery to the pre-modern man. Are these theories correct and true? Only time will tell.

    Kaptain K, the cross is a symbol of faith and a reminder to those that Jesus came to earth for a specific purpose. He is the bridge between Man and God. Jesus came for one purpose. He came to die on a cross so that others might find “The Way” into the presents of God.

    The “burning cross” is a symbol often employed by the KKK, as a rally point for its cause. As I understand it, it was a symbol of a purified Arian race. (Whatever that means) They stood on the narrow premise that they are part of the supreme race that was selected to be the master race. They hated Jews, blacks and homosexuals. If we look at the history of the KKK, it has waned considerably in membership over the past 50 years. Thinking people are not buying that propaganda anymore.

    Adolph Hitler took that route and it lead to WWII. With that belief, Hitler justified killing more than 6,000,000 Jews. But look back and see where his ideals eventually fell apart. When he was faced with his own failures, he ended his life via suicide, after the genicide was confirmed. He basically took the cowards way out, when faced with the reality that he was a marked man.

    In conclusion, those who believe in a “Supreme Being”, (God) hold dear to the beliefs that we have a better place in store at the end of their days. We try to live upright lives and share our beliefs so that others may consider thier own fate. If we are wrong and there is no Heaven or Hell, are we any worse off then the scoffer? Not at all. However, if there is a “Supreme Being” and there are such things as Heaven and Hell, I’ll take Heaven over Hell anyday. The cross is just a reminder to some, but a stumbling block to others. Fortunately, we have a choice. (Choose well)

    Sincerely,
    Swez

  56. LP is NG we all know that. I’m sure some one could find a creative way to naturally illuminate the cross.(And I don’t mean solar collectors to charge batteries)
    The other side of the coin is that an cross lit by starlight is the way Jesus died. Jesus is the light. A symbol of him need not be lit up at night. Any Christian should not need additional light to see the way…wouldn’t you agree?

  57. A high-powered pellet gun would be the answer…and fun.

  58. Joey

    Aside from light pollution which I really hate isn’t this just a big waste of energy?

  59. TheBlackCat

    “If we are wrong and there is no Heaven or Hell, are we any worse off then the scoffer? Not at all. However, if there is a “Supreme Being” and there are such things as Heaven and Hell, I’ll take Heaven over Hell anyday.”

    Pascal’s wager again. You are missing something key here: Christianity is not the only religion. It is not the only religion that believes in an afterlife, and it is not the only religion where unbelievers are punished in the afterlife. The choice is not between believing in Christianity and going to heaven and believing in nothing in going to hell. It is between hundreds of completely different religions, each of which believes you will suffer some form of punishment for not sharing their beliefs. In Christianity, you can’t just believe in a generic supreme being, you must believe in Jesus. But this precludes believing in Mohamed, so according to Islam you are going to hell. It also precludes believing in Brahman, so you cannot reach salvation and are stuck here on Earth. It also precludes believing in Buddha, with similar results. The list just goes on and on.

    So as opposed to making a choice between belief (which may or may not land you in Heaven) and non-belief (which may or may not land you in Hell), which would be a pretty safe bet, it is more like the lottery, where you have hundreds, perhaps thousands of choices to pick from and eternal (at least in some religions) is the punishment if you pick the wrong. Not as sure of a bet, in fact your choice of being correct is extremely small and most people on Earth, not matter what their choice, are going to suffer.

    Also, Pascal’s wager has another problem. Do you really think God is going to respect someone who picked him for that sort of reason. Do you really think simply gambling on the safe bet is the road to salvation? “Yeah, I believe in God because I have nothing to lose with that choice.” So much for faith.

    I think Albert Einstein said it best:
    “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

  60. Feijoo

    Swez, you said “This really sounds very foolish to complain about” a lighted cross. Perhaps you would like to read the information at http://www.darksky.org. Not only will you gain some understanding of this “foolish” point of view, you will learn what you, yourself, can do to help preserve the “dark” sky (really a starlit sky.)

  61. Larry

    The more antics I see from religious wackos the more I admire Richard Dawkins.
    I watched the launch on CNN and had it on NASA TV as well. I noticed NASA TV runs the stream on a 30 second delay. I just wondered if anyone knew why that is.

  62. PK

    In conclusion, those who believe in a “Supreme Being”, (God) hold dear to the beliefs that we have a better place in store at the end of their days. We try to live upright lives and share our beliefs so that others may consider thier own fate.

    Fair enough, but why does that mean shoving a massive cross in others’ faces?

    (note the use of the apostrophe 😉 )

  63. anomalous4

    http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2006/12/09/science-versus-religion/

    I wonder how long a giant Crescent or Pentagram would last on that hill?

    About as long as it takes for the local gendarmerie to round up a couple of cherry-pickers from the local utility company and pull the thing down. Frankly, I’d almost like to see any other religion try something like this, just to prove the point. In the mean time, pellet guns wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

    I’m a Christian myself, and last I heard, “loving your neighbor as yourself” didn’t include messing up his/her workplace or creating a public nuisance/eyesore. It’s not “persecution” for communities to insist that religious organizations be good neighbors just as everyone else is expected to be.

    What surprised me abut all this is that it’s an Episcopal church perpetrating this inconsiderate stupidity. I could almost understand a Fundy church doing it, but……….

    Ed protests:

    I haven’t seen *ANYONE* mention the thousands and thousands of watts of light pollution that light up the skies for tens of miles in every direction coming from the San Miguel Indian Casino in Cabazon, CA. This casino, like the cross in question is blocked from the view of Mt. Palomar by a massive mountain range. Which do you think causes light pollution that is the more visible. Would you advocate removing the lighting from the casino too? If not, than this is just another attack on Christianity and as such it has no merit whatsoever.

    Two words for you, Ed, from someone who lived in that area for 8 years:

    Google Earth.

    If you take a look, you’ll see that the Cabazon casino is situated smack-dab at the foot of a mountain that blocks its light from the observatory. It’s also in an isolated desert area, in a valley that acts as a sort of “wind tunnel” that blows away the smoggy air and humidity that spread light pollution.

    Palm Springs, on the other hand, is built up and smog-prone, with somewhat higher humidity due to all the watered areas. In addition, there’s a mountain pass directly between Palm Springs and Mt. Palomar, so more light is bound to escape. The cross is on a hill on the southwest side of town, not far from where Rt. 74 takes off up into the mountains through that pass, and unlike the casino, it’s not hugging the mountains, leaving a flatter angle for the light to get through.

    If anyone’s “attacking Christianity,” it’s the Almighty him/herself for making the laws of physics act the way they do.

    This otherwise rabid gun-control nut says: Pass the BB gun.

  64. I’m all for the BB gun, but be careful or you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

  65. Kaptain K

    “He came to die on a cross”

    No! He came to reveal God to Man. That he died on a cross is a terrible indictment of what we are and what he tried to rectify.

  66. There is some high irony in their blinding the Palomar telescope to looking at the light of God’s creation. Why doesn’t the church want scientists to look into space? What are they afraid of?

    Incidentally: Is there federal research being done at Mt. Palomar, that this pollution disturbs? I think that’s a federal crime.

    But it had to come, didn’t it? The church is just duplicating stupid PETA tricks, interfering with research.

    But I jump to unwarranted conclusions. There is much the newspaper article doesn’t say. For example, have researchers at Mt. Palomar complained? Has anyone nicely asked the church to dim the cross? Has anyone pointed out the economic impact of Mt. Palomar on the surrounding community?

  67. Daffy

    “No! He came to reveal God to Man. That he died on a cross is a terrible indictment of what we are and what he tried to rectify.”

    Actually, God sent himself down to die horribly to save his own creation from his own divine wrath. Am I the only one who thinks the Guy must be severely unhinged? Or, as Lewis Black observed, the God of the Bible comes off like a “raging alcoholic.”

  68. Tim G

    I don’t see it as discrimination to tell a church to turn down or turn off its lights which violate the law. In fact, it’s discrimination if they don’t…

    Phil, you’re thinking too clearly. Ten shots of Jack Daniel’s should help fog things up.

  69. I have to agree. I’m really against people using religion as a means to justify anything. I’m just not sure why they can’t want to use dimmer bulbs? Do they realise that they’re light polluting a telescope observatory?

    I also followed the Fark link. I thought the pentagram lit up was rather amusing!

    Mike.

  70. firstly:
    What astronomical observations do the mercury emission lines inerfere with?

    secondly:
    As many here have mentioned, lightbulb issues are amenable to second amendment solutions, rendering the first amendment arguments moot.

  71. dustbubble

    What’s the prob? I assumed all you lot had rifles under the bed. And sniper sights.

    It’s quite scary, lots of you seem to take this giant-fairy-in the-sky stuff seriously.

    Us Yoorpeons always get the Norwegians in to sort out any inconvenient churches. (They’re still at it, even after a thousand years!)

  72. Swez: Best of luck reading ‘The Blind Watchmaker’. I don’t expect you to agree with it- but it will show you that scientists have deeply considered the problems you have mentioned.

    BTW, it is perfectly true that life is designed. What’s not obvious is that there exists a natural phenomenon (i.e. evolution) that can achieve this design, without any foresight or intelligence.

    Maybe it’s a bit cruel to point out grammatical mistakes in others’ posts. (I’m no grammarian myself.) Apostrophization isn’t that hard. It takes under 30 minutes to learn, and the rest is practice and discipline.

    Here’s a good page explaining apostrophe usage

    http://tranchant.plus.com/notes/apostrophe

    (In fairness, I’ll mention that there are many brilliant scientists who couldn’t punctuate their way out of a paper bag.)

  73. Swez

    After looking at many posts, it makes sense to take the good neighbor policy here. If the community has bylaws and regulations about light pollution, it would be in the best interest of all parties to sit down, discuss the situation and come up with a plan that works.

    As a young lad, I was very much interested in astronomy. (Still am) But with all the light pollution in our area, one has to travel many miles to get a good look at the night sky. They call that progress and there is not much any single citizen can do about it.

    This site has sure has been a real eye-opener personally. It has given a very good snap shot of many differing opions and how strongly we hold to the ones we have.

    I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah or a Merry X-mas. Pick the one that fits and enjoy it to the fullest. I won’t come back to pester or rock this boat again.

    Sincerely,
    Swez >

  74. Swez:

    I don’t think anyone has told you to stop posting on or reading this site. Why not stay and continue to have some of your opinions challenged (in a respectful way)?

    The BA’s posts are not written for atheists or liberals or Christians or conservatives. Everyone is welcome to this site (uh except for the trolls).

    And remember to pick up a copy of ‘The Blind Watchmaker’!

  75. Gary Ansorge

    Black cat: great post:With hundreds of ways to go to hell in a bucket, guess I’ll just have to opt for making heaven right here on earth. One minor dissent: Buddism is NOT a religion. It’s a philosophy that tries to help people adapt to and accept their reality, that this one really is all we know!

    Swez: I love a good argument for, as once before noted, while ncessity may be the mother of invention, dissent is it’s father. If we were all in agreement we’d still be complaining about the cold, in the caves,,,

    Merry Christmas, Swez: Don’t stay away because we disagree with you, most of the time,,,,

    GAry 7

  76. Boko999

    Why not send the rector of the church a nice message.
    rgcertain@stmargarets.org

  77. It’s not my job to please God. It’s God’s job to please me.

  78. TheBlackCat

    I should point out that was not my argument, I was just repeating the standard criticism of Pascal’s wager. No matter how much I might want to take credit for it, I was simply paraphrasing two of the counters for Pascal’s wager that have existed for centuries.

    And Buddhism is a religion. It has beliefs regarding what happens after someone dies, it has belief in the supernatural, it has a set of supernaturally-derived rules that must be followed to reach salvation. Also, like all religions it is not homogeneous. There are several different branches with different beliefs. Some branches believe in supernatural beings. Some ascribe to the Buddha status and and power equivalent to a God in other religions. Some branches believe in other “worlds” that could be considered similar to a multi-tiered series of heavens and hells, while others believe in a series of worlds at the same level that focus on different character flaws. All said, it is most definitely a religion, although the degree of ceremony followed by those who practice it ranges from little to immense.

  79. Gary Mcleod

    As the brilliant and sadly missed Bill Hicks used to say; “Do you think when Jesus comes back he’s gonna want to see another !*@%#*! cross?” As an ex-christian it’s always baffled me how those who say they love him can even tolerate worshipping the image of the thing that killed him, it’s like a devotee of Trotsky carrying an imitation ice-pick in his ‘honor.’ Mind you, a 30 foot illuminated fish sign wouldn’t be much better.

  80. I think certain people at that church grouping should re-read Romans 13 again. Sometimes I dispair at people supposedly on our side.

    Gary Mcleod makes a pertinant point about the image of the cross, and I have heard people from our pulpits making that same point. (When did Christians start using the image of a cross? – my guess is it was under Emporor Constantine)

    Re Dawkins and the Blind Watchmaker, if I remember his argument, the apparant design seen in living objects can be accounted for by natural selection and vast amounts of time. Never mind the issue that mutations required to drive change are actually DNA copying errors which nature usually selects against. It is still a good reason why ID leaves itself wide open to attack as “God of the Gaps” is a theological No-No

    My comment in the ID debacle has always to cite the various factions of the Anthropic Cosmological Principal and point out that it was derived by non-believers. It does not have to touch living specimens when you get to discuss fundamental physical constants of the universe.

  81. DennyMo

    “The county issued a permit for the wooden cross in 1986, allowing up to 40 light bulbs of 25 to 100 watts each.”

    With 39 CFL bulbs of 13W (~=60W incandescent light bulb) each, they’re honoring at least part of the intent of the permit, and that has good neighbor written all over it (leaving aside the wood vs. aluminum discussion for a bit…) 😉 Now we’re blaming the church for a permitting error made by the city? As much as I hate light pollution, this is only so much “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Unless the city is going to do a global review of *all* permits to see if they neeed the lighting allowances revised, they have no choice but to leave this one alone.

  82. DennyMo

    Oh, speaking of the Space Shuttle launch, did anyone else notice how CNN reported that flight commander Mark Polansky graduated from “Perdue” University. I saw it on screen three times when they flashed the crew bios, don’t know if they ever got it right. Way to go, dim bulbs.

  83. jrkeller

    Sticks,

    When I went to Pompeii, the guide told us that found a fresco of a cross on one of the walls. He also told us they weren’t sure if it was related to Christianity or not.

  84. Al

    Sticks:

    Constantine’s armies marched under the Chi-Rho symbol, (a auperimposed X & P) derived from the first two letters of “Christos” in Greek.

    I think it was about the 700s before the cross was used as a christian symbol, long after crucufixion had fallen into disuse, and when the full horror of it had been largely forgotten. (Which might partly explain why the nails are usually shown going through Jesus’ palms…)

  85. seaducer

    Denny Mo wrote:

    “”The county issued a permit for the wooden cross in 1986, allowing up to 40 light bulbs of 25 to 100 watts each……Now we’re blaming the church for a permitting error made by the city?””

    Finish it up with the next paragraph mate-

    “”But the permit also said that any alteration, repair or relocation of the cross would require clearance from the county’s Building and Safety Department. The department does not have a record pertaining to the installation of the aluminum cross in 1996, and Bill Harris, the parish administrator, said he did not know if one existed.””

  86. seaducer

    I like this quote too-

    “”Palm Desert Mayor Jim Ferguson said the original county permit should be respected and the cross left alone.

    “Right or wrong, it is part of the city of Palm Desert, and I can’t see any good reason for taking it down from a governmental standpoint.”””

    Gee, I don’t care if it violates laws, or the original permit was vacated when they failed to seek approval to change the display, I love it so it should stay…

    Sound representation for the people, that Jim Ferguson.

  87. Irishman

    Swez said:
    > Imagine a handfull of 13 watt lights in the desert doing any real harm to an observatory, 45 miles away.

    This part is a bit deceptive. Wattage is not the proper terminology for measuring the brightness of lights, despite it being the lay convention. Yes, we typically talk about 40 W or 60 W or 100 W light bulbs and use the wattage as a brightness indicator. But actually, the brightness is measured in lumens. For a given technology (i.e. incandescent lamps of tungsten filament), an increase in power means more current through the resister, which gives more light. But compact fluorescent bulbs do not use the same technology. Their 13 Watt bulbs are as bright as a 60 W incandescent.

    DennyMo said:
    >With 39 CFL bulbs of 13W (~=60W incandescent light bulb) each, they’re honoring at least part of the intent of the permit, and that has good neighbor written all over it (leaving aside the wood vs. aluminum discussion for a bit…) Now we’re blaming the church for a permitting error made by the city?

    You have a valid point about the permit. If the permit allowed for up to 40 100W incandescents, then they are probably not violating that part of their permit. There is another issue about the permit stating the original wooden construction and the requirement for a new permit to change to the aluminum structure. That permit was not obtained. So there is still permit violation at issue.

    > As much as I hate light pollution, this is only so much “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Unless the city is going to do a global review of *all* permits to see if they neeed the lighting allowances revised, they have no choice but to leave this one alone.

    You are wrong. The city is within rights to review any incident independently. This issue is noticable so it attracts attention. And as commented, whatever the original permit for bulbs, they violated that permit by upgrading the structure from the wooden cross to the aluminum tower. That should have forced a new permit that was not filed.

    Gary Ansorge said:
    > One minor dissent: Buddism is NOT a religion. It’s a philosophy that tries to help people adapt to and accept their reality, that this one really is all we know!

    Buddhism promotes the concept of the soul and reincarnation. That hardly sounds like accepting this reality as the only one.

  88. Oh, those tasty live kittens. Almost as good as puppies.

  89. TheBowerbird

    It should be noted that even though the bulbs are 13W, the Compact Fluorescent bulbs of this rating put out light more equivalent to a 60-75 watt traditional bulb.

  90. Gary Ansorge

    Black Cat: I understand there is difficulty differentiating between religion and philosophy however, ALL religions have some statement about what God is. I quote the Delai Lama in that regard:

    “In Buddism we know nothing of what god is, but IF there is a god, we are it,,,”

    Since Buddism does not profess to KNOW anything of a god, it cannot be a religion. It does, however, describe the various demons, etc, of history as “manifestations of the psyche, similar to Jungian dream interpretation” (from wikipedia). This is hardly the stuff of religion.
    As to “salvation”,,,the only salvation in Buddism is release from the earthly realm, which in the materialist view, occurs naturally when we croak. I know Buddism speaks of rebirth, but that too is somewhat metaphorical in nature, as we do not normally remember anything from a previous life, “rebirth” is more likely reference to random dream imagery, some of which seems more “real” than our daily life.
    I consider Buddism an intensive discipline of life, just one more rational way to understand reality and our place within it and while that may just be me, the Delai Lama seems to hold similar views.

    GAry 7
    PS. I “know” of other worlds,,,one of them is called Mars,,,

  91. Thankyou AL

    I have somewhere, a picture of an early Christian Altar which is in the South Shields Roman fort of Arbeia which indeed has those symbols of the chi on the P

    I had Constantine in mind because of the alleged sign of a cross in the sky he claimed to have seen, which he took to be from the Christ

  92. Eric Anderson

    My opinion: This would not have made any headlines (nor Phil’s blog) had it not been a cross violating light pollution ordinances. I doubt that Phil would have blogged over a billboard for a casino, if that’s what was violating light pollution laws. I assume that violations of light pollution laws are a fairly regular occurance in the Palomar area…so why does this particular story get attention? Because it’s a cross. Period.

    Food for thought. One cannot deny that the media has made religion at least a part of this issue.

  93. seaducer

    My take is that you are right Eric, had that been a billboard sign it would have been fined after some of the local people complained about it. Because it was a Christian display it stays. Perhaps there are violations, but I would imagine that if someone noticed and brought about a complaint you would have the local government take action. Why? Becuase fines=money.
    Just my .02$

  94. seaducer

    Oops, I edited paret of my point right out!LOL

    I meant to point out that once the locals took action the offenders would comply with the regulations and thus, no story.

  95. I doubt that Phil would have blogged over a billboard for a casino, if that’s what was violating light pollution laws.

    I don’t know… I could see Phil bringing up a casino billboard in the context of light pollution, if only to explain the concept to us. Of course, the difference is that casinos are simply businesses, and generally follow the laws and don’t raise such a big stink if they’re found in violation. Churches, on the other hand, are a lot more holier-than-thou and have a disturbing tendency these days to consider themselves above the law, which is why it’s a church that’s the problem in this case.

  96. Quiet_Desperation

    One again I am the lone voice of reason. :)

    Put red bulbs in the cross.

    (bows)

    Thank you. Next simple problem.

  97. ABR

    Quiet_Desperation….is the area in question zoned as a red light district?

  98. anomalous4

    If the permit allowed for up to 40 100W incandescents, then they are probably not violating that part of their permit.

    In reply to this and all the rest of the arguments in this vein:

    It’s not wattage that’s the real issue here – it’s light output. The ordinance was written before compact fluorescents became popular. I wonder if the church is trying to use the “wattage” wording as a loophole. If so, the city needs to amend its ordinance to take that into account. And the church should still be a good neighbor and do something about its public nuisance – a statute that still applies no matter what the wattage.

  99. Gary Ansorge

    Yeah, red lights. But wouldn’t that imply the Church of Aphrodite?

    GAry 7

  100. BC

    > so why does this particular story get attention? Because it’s a cross. Period.

    Maybe also because Christians get self-righteous about their rights and usually end up reinterpreting the laws so that they are explicitly favored over everyone else. When they don’t get their way, they complain about discrimination. In the end, it creates a fake sense of victimization among Christians who wrongly believe they are discriminated against. Obviously, the misinformation has worked on you.

    There’s an interesting post over at RSR that talks about Christianity and laws in another case. Another example of double-standards. (Start about halfway through this post for the story.)
    http://redstaterabble.blogspot.com/2006/12/cut-fat-hog.html

  101. Monkey

    Infophile,

    I agree, but must add one thing to your thoughts – chuirches ARE a business. They propegate themselves based on economics rather than seeking of information. That is left for scientists, who usually are straining to find, and to stretch what they have, funding to actually learn and understand. Religion, “The Church”, is simply a for-profit scam that persists.
    I agree with your thoughts on everything else though – the ideology that “we can do anything because we are a religion” speaks to the hiererchy they see themselves owning.

  102. “The heavens declare the glory of God”

    Why obscure that glory in a photon fog!

  103. skeptigirl

    No one gives a #$% about whether it is a cross or a casino. Don’t flatter yourselves. This is a light polluting sign in one of the few dark sky viewing areas left in the country. If you have never seen it, you need to visit a real dark sky area. One look at the incredible sky one sees without light pollution compared to the light polluted night sky most of us live under says it all.

    Fly over the US at night and look at the lighted areas. Everything east of the Rockies and all of the West Coast are lit up. That only leaves the deserts between the West Coast and the Rockies. And that is where the population is starting to increase. Just as we need to preserve at least some wilderness areas for people to be able to visit, we also need to preserve at least some dark sky.

    Can you imagine what it will be like when you cannot show your kids or grandkids or great grandkids what the real night sky looks like? For those of you raised in the cities, do you remember being overwhelmed the first time you saw the actual night sky? Do your kids know you can see the Milky Way and it isn’t just something we know is there through a telescope?

    Claiming this is Christian persecution just shows the extent of the propaganda tactic leaders use to keep the flock united. Us against them. Look it up. It’s a propaganda technique and one used quite often at that. Sadly, it is very effective and the comments here demonstrate that.

  104. I give a (*&%(*$^ f it’s a casino or a church, because in this case it’s the idea of religion that is muddying the waters. If a casino violates the law, they would either fix the problem or bribe their way out (or go through the public to get the laws changed). In this case, since it’s a church, there is already a large amount of baggage from the very start.

  105. Astrogirl

    Knew that this one would be a great discussion! This is why I love the BA blog. Let me say that as a scientist and someone who believes in God (religious denomination not relevant), that the cross with light bulbs near (yes 45 mi. is NEAR telescope-wise) Mt. Palomar is rediculous. The Christians that claim that they should be able to break the law to have their illuminated cross should read Amos 5:8. The Bible mentions the heavens as the glory of God, not any man-made object, and that God darkens the day into night. Also, as “The Barber of Civility” said, “Religion and one’s religious beliefs are very personal. Keep it that way and keep out of my face.” I agree. God is not a neon-light, illuminated cross, or any other advertisement. God should be a personal thing. But enough of my “personal” arguements against the cross.

    As someone who works as a professional scientist, and has worked at several science museums, let me say that the whole Dark Sky effort deserves all the support it can get. Like many other amateur astronomers that regularly participate in an astronomy club, I have noticed light pollution cut down on what we can show the public through our telescopes. And the research telescopes get hurt even more due to the long exposure times that are necessary for astrophotography. I applaud all of the dark sky laws and hope other areas to get similar laws. We (the astronomy club I belong to) asked the local college that our observatory is a part of to turn down the lights and/or get the kind that direct the lights downward instead of upward. They complied (for the most part) and it made a HUGE difference! We can see a lot more though telescopes now. And since the college is our only major source of light pollution, I can speak from experience that changing or eliminating the cross’ lighting WILL make a huge difference. So the church with the lit-up-cross should obey the law and quit whining.

    Phil, I absolutely love your blog! Don’t give up the Good Fight. I am on your side and need to go vote for your blog on this computer (already voted for you on a different computer).

    Sincerely,
    Astrogirl

  106. Irishman

    Eric Anderson said:
    >My opinion: This would not have made any headlines (nor Phil’s blog) had it not been a cross violating light pollution ordinances.

    It probably wouldn’t have made headlines if it weren’t a cross, because the violators would have either complied with the law or been punished by the mayor, you know, the one who said since this was a cross he didn’t see why it was a problem. If it didn’t make news headlines, it probably wouldn’t have come to the attention of Phil, so in that regard you are factually correct though possibly wrong on the reasons.

    > I doubt that Phil would have blogged over a billboard for a casino, if that’s what was violating light pollution laws. I assume that violations of light pollution laws are a fairly regular occurance in the Palomar area…so why does this particular story get attention? Because it’s a cross. Period.

    You assume violations of the the light pollution laws are a regular occurrence? And that is the basis of your claim? Why don’t you get some evidence to show that secular businesses violate the ordinances all the time? Then you might have a case for unfair treatment. Until then, the evidence is that the Mt. Palomar area has stringent anti-light pollution laws enforced on everyone.

    Palm Desert lighting trespass ordinance, 1997: Lighting on hillside plots of less than a quarter-acre is limited to 8,100 lumens.
    Riverside County light pollution ordinance, 1988: Same as Palm Desert; plus any decorative lighting within a 45-mile radius of the Mt. Palomar Observatory is supposed to be turned off between 11 p.m. and sunrise. The cross is within the 45-mile limit.

    > Food for thought. One cannot deny that the media has made religion at least a part of this issue.

    The Desert Sun certainly has played a role in drawing attention to this issue. However, I don’t think the Desert Sun is playing up the religous controvery angle more than the involved parties themselves. The perpetrators are a church group who are trying to argue a First Amendment protection for their “right” to violate the local ordinances. If the church were not claiming special status because they are a church and it’s a cross, then if the newspaper emphasized it you might have a point. But the supporters are making religion part of their claim to justification, I don’t think you can blame the media for blowing it out of proportion in this case.

    Your persecution complex is showing. You might need to get that looked at.

  107. Quiet_Desperation

    The red lights would represent the blood of Christ.

    I’ve thought this through, folks. :)

    Probably far more than it deserved. 😀

  108. In my next sermon I may use this as an example of how some Christians manage to turn people off with their misbehaviour.

    Thanks Phill, I am with you on this one

  109. Perhaps the church believes they are literally commanded not to hide their light under a bushel?

  110. Bane

    What I find funniest about this is that Christians admire the cross as a symbol of their religion, and that they believe that “Christ will come again” to quote the Catholic Liturgy. Do you honestly think that when Christ returns he’s going to want to see a Cross? That’s like Resurrecting Ted Bundy and inviting him to dinner and seating him in an Electric Chair.

    I like Christians…….they’re wacky. :)

  111. Mau

    Aww, they’re just jealous of the Mount Lindo Cross here in Denver CO, up on the side of one of our foothills. I think it’s an actual declared landmark (I know it’s been here since the 50’s or so), and if the stories can be believed, is an actual visual navigation point for the airplanes flying to & from Denver.

    I don’t think Mt Lindo violates any lighting regulations, though… or if it does, its landmark status protects it. I get the impression most people here just look at it the same way they do Christmas lights, or a fancy neon billboard, or something — just one of Denver’s unique little oddities.

  112. skeptigirl

    The Bad Astronomer Says:
    I give a (*&%(*$^ f it’s a casino or a church, because in this case it’s the idea of religion that is muddying the waters. If a casino violates the law, they would either fix the problem or bribe their way out (or go through the public to get the laws changed). In this case, since it’s a church, there is already a large amount of baggage from the very start.

    This was exactly my point. Instead of a discussion about the light pollution, we have people claiming it is about persecution of Christians, as if no one would care about the light were it not an excuse to attack the Christian religion.

    You are just describing the other side of the same coin. Were it not a church, the issue would be about the light ordinance and compliance would be expected.

  113. DennyMo

    Judging from this picture, seems to me the church should be pretty low on the list of polluters for folks to be upset about: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/images/viewjan2006.jpg

    Sure, every little bit helps, but this cross is really a “little bit”.

    General question on permits: does violating one portion of a permit typically void the entire permit? Or does the inspector merely point out the violation and either issue fines or dictate a timetable for corrective action? It seems to me that many folks here are taking the first position, while I think the second is more nearly the case.

  114. skeptigirl

    Hard to tell from the picture how much the cross adds when the telescope is aimed away from those lights, but you have a very good point, DennyMo. I was under the assumption the cross added enough light to matter by itself. You’ve deflated my soapbox.

    The total light does matter though, so that gets back to the news article and the BA’s point, why is the ordinance not being enforced for this church? That is still a legitimate issue.

  115. Irishman

    Thanks, DennyMo. That’s evidence that shows the cross isn’t very significant.

  116. Devo - Mungascr

    Thanks Boko999 – I’ve now done just that; posting him (I presume its a ‘him’ -theyusually are.) the message below. Hope it is okay to post the link back to here .. :-S My humble apologies if its not…

    Wonder what the odds are of a reply or of them doing the right thing and at least turning the (expletives not inserted but muttered under breath) thing off?! 😉

    Now I just _hope_ that was the right link! 😉

    *******

    Dear Rector at St Margarets

    I am an Australian astronomer who has stumbled onto your address via the below link debating your gargantuan illuminated cross via the “Bad Astronomy’ website.

    http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2006/12/09/science-versus-religion/

    I believe your church is showing a gross lack of consideration for others and is adding to the already considerable light polllution problems affecting a significant and scientifically valuable astronomical observatory.

    I wish to add my objections to the many I am sure you will have recieved over this tacky, off-putting and wasteful religious advertisement. I will add that I consider your cross counter-productive as it puts Christianity in a bad light and makes many people – myself for one – less likely to think well of a faith that shows such disregard for its neighbours.

    I urge you to please turn off the crosses lights at once and preferably dismantle & remove that cross entirely. Apart from anything else, the glare reflecting off aluminium presents a potential hazard to motorists getting blinded. If you must have such a structure at all then please use a less inconsiderate plain wooden variety which, after all, would be more suited to your faith with its extra verisimilitude and much less of an eyesore for your neighbours.

    Yours sincerely :

    Steven C. Raine
    mungascr@hotmail.com
    Adelaide hills, South Australia

  117. Devo - Mungascr

    [B]JustAl[/B] If you are in the southern hemisphere you may be familiar with the “saucepan” asterism of Orion. (The trio of belt Stars plus “handle” incl. M-42) If you look at the “handle” component the middle “star” will appear slightly fuzzy – that’s the Great Orion Nebula, Messier 42 which can be seen quite well in at least moderately bright and light-polluted skies.

    In northern continents you’ll have to see that upside down – the “handle” of our “Saucepan” was the original “Sword” of the Hunter (Orion).

    The light pollution factor will, of course, vary from place to place. All too many people have never really had a chance to see proper natural “dark” skies – if you haven’t then its worth somehow getting to somewhere far from any cities and far from any lights and looking up, it really, really is. I’ll vouch for that.

  118. Devo - Mungascr

    Oh forgot to add I’ve sent pretty much the same letter as an open letter for publication in that Desert Sun newspaper via email.

    Since we don’t get that paper down here in Adelaide, South Oz, I doubt I’ll ever know if that gets in unless someone who reads it here lets me know …

    Oh well hope it does some good anyway.

  119. “No, BA, you’re not on any crazy pills. I’m a Christian and I agree with you here. I’m ashamed of Christians who break laws first, whine later, and then wonder why they get attacked by everyone else.”

    The funniest thing about this is most of the folks arguing at this point are doing so simply to argue. The bible states that christians are to respect the laws of their government, and in this day and age, there are a lot of laws to respect. The wattage debate between flourescent and your standard bulbs, the difference between a church and a casino, the lack of proper permits in changing from the wooden to the aluminum cross… these are all just the finer details that, honestly, aren’t going to matter in the long run. Think of it this way: if Christians are 100% correct in their beliefs, we have scant more than a decade before the final judgement settles in and Christ comes to reclaim his territory, (given that modern estimates provide for a Gregorian error of 4-10 years,) and if not, we’re still on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough that will lead us into a “singularity” of human mental evolution that will offset most major religious structures within 25 years, anyway. In defense of the skywatchers, however, the scientific observatories are built to collect light at a sensitivity thousands of times more subtle than anything the human mind could comprehend, so that even the demure light of 39 45-watt bulbs could possibly provide a haze that could complicate observations near the horizon. Not to say that it’s likely, or even remotely probable, but in the realm of fuzzy logic and spooky physics, stranger things have happened. My personal recommendation would have to be talk to the church, ask them to settle for a less-powerful bulb, and if they don’t, rest assured that within the next 30 years or so it’ll be a completely different world.

  120. DennyMo

    Irishman, was the double-entendre intentional? If so, very nice. If not, very lucky… 😉

  121. Ralph S. Welsh, PhD

    As a psychologists and a skywatcher, I understand the Christian need to let their flock know they are there, and let the heathens know they are there, too. The big, ugly, bright aluminum cross is a way of putting it to all of the non-believers, especially all of the skeptics, which includes most astronomy buffs. Since the world is only 6000 years old to a lot of these “born again” folks, the world of astronomy has to be out of step with God in believing the outrageous notion the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and in their opinion we secularists might as well be ignored. I have several modest proposals: a) encourage the church that it would be really cool to build a large cavern underground, set up the cross, and charge admission to see it; b) have a developer build a large brothel next door, and the “cross people” would probably decide to move, taking their cross with them: c) encourage local members of the NRA to use the bulbs for target practice.
    Of course, we could ask the folks at Mr. Palomar to move their telescope to a more appropriate place. I would contribute to such a fund, and we could ask the good Christians to make a generous contribution to such an effort. They would probably be only too glad to move all of these heathen scientists out of their neighborhood, anyway.

  122. Stevo - Mungascr

    Case anyone’s wondering, as of now (Jan. 17th) no reply to my letter to the pastor.

    [B]Daffy[/B] wrote :

    Actually, God sent himself down to die horribly to save his own creation from his own divine wrath. Am I the only one who thinks the Guy must be severely unhinged? Or, as Lewis Black observed, the God of the Bible comes off like a “raging alcoholic.”

    Brilliant summation! Well said – & no you sure aren’t. You put it so well I may just have to quote you elsewhere if that’s okay!

  123. Marla

    Palm Desert does not have street lights on neighborhood streets we do more for Astronomy thn other locations.

    The lit cross is a old cherished symbol for the community. It is located on a lower mount with mountains behind it. The picture you have is taken at one angle- upwards towards the North. When coming from the I 10 there is a completely different perspective of this cross. It has towering Santa Rosa mountains behind it.

    This may actually be a religious hangup for some, the world “religion” is -a deep investigation of-

  124. my father, Mark Stembler, built that cross in 1981 and its not about laws, its a bout sending a message. :)

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