The US Supreme court, by a 5-4 majority, has held that it is okay for the government to use a cross as a "secular" symbol in the context of a war memorial. In that context, the cross is now de-Christianised, according to the majority, so no question of separation of church and state arises.
This will not please American secularists, and who can blame them? It gives the government much more authority to spray the landscape with Christian symbols, and of course many Americans don't read the cross as merely a secular symbol of the deaths caused by war. Thus, Derek Araujo at the CFI says: “This endorsement of a sectarian religious symbol for purportedly non-religious purposes should disturb religious and secular Americans alike.”
Well, yes. Quite right. But that's the way a lot of these cases are now going to be decided, by de-Christianising the Christian symbols and interpreting them as "just ceremonial deism" or even as symbols that have, in context, taken on a secular meaning. Once you do that, you can avoid some of the hard questions about separation of church and state, because you assert that such-and-such a Christian symbol or practice is no longer "the church", but now has some non-religious meaning in American culture.
I'll cop some reaction to this, but I actually think the position was pretty arguable in the particular case. I don't know how things stand in the part of California where the cross was set up, but here in Australia a cross really might be interpreted, at least to some extent, as a secular symbol if it were connected with memoralialising the sacrifices involved in war. To some extent, the meaning has segued from a specifically Christian thing to a more ambiguous thing as a result of our exposure to countless images of crosses on war graves ... in contexts where all the emphasis is on the horror of war, and none is on religion. So, I could actually live with the outcome of this litigation, at least if it were viewed as an isolated development.
The bitter pill to swallow will be when (and if) the Supreme Court upholds the National Prayer Day legislation, which is blatantly and unambiguously religious. The case is a long way from reaching Supreme Court level, but surely it will. I can see no plausible legal basis to save National Prayer Day, but when you count judges ... well, there's four unequivocally conservative judges plus Justice Kennedy. If they vote as expected, the law will change. With Justice O'Connor gone, the balance of the bench has altered considerably, leaving Justice Kennedy as the only swing judge. Kennedy will sometimes vote against the government in cases like this, but only if he sees something at least mildly coercive. Given his previously-expressed views, the law in the US will soon allow a lot more non-coercive endorsement of religion by the government. That's where all this is heading, and it's not a good destination.