Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) salutes at a campaign event in Camden, S.C., Feb. 15, 2016.
Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

This Week in God, 2.20.16

First up from the God Machine this week is a culture-war pitch from a Republican presidential hopeful that pushed the ideological envelope in unexpected ways.
As a rule, when national GOP candidates make appeals to social conservatives, they stick to the usual issues like reproductive rights, the Second Amendment, and LGBT rights. But McClatchy reported this week on a new area of interest for one Texas senator.
Even before Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last weekend, Ted Cruz was already stoking fears among conservatives about what could happen if Democrats win the White House and trigger a liberal takeover of the high court.
Like sandblasting the crosses and Stars of David off of the headstones in veterans’ cemeteries?
That’s actually the argument Cruz made on NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this week. As the Texas Republican put it, “[I]f liberals are so confident that the American people want unlimited abortion on demand, want religious liberty torn down, want the Second Amendment taken away, want veterans’ memorials torn down, want the crosses and stars of David sandblasted off of the tombstones of our fallen veterans, then go and make the case to the people.”
The notion that liberals “want the crosses and stars of David sandblasted off of the tombstones of our fallen veterans” seemed new to me, but Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler defended the claim in a McClatchy interview, citing “several cases where memorials to veterans – in the shape of crosses – built on public land have triggered lengthy legal battles.”
Still, there’s a pretty significant difference between crosses erected on public land and “sandblasting” crosses off tombstone in veterans’ cemeteries.
So, I checked in with Rob Boston, a longtime friend and a spokesperson for American United for Separation of Church and State, to ask if Cruz’s concerns have merit. Boston described the senator’s argument as “pathetic,” adding, “At cemeteries like Arlington, the families of deceased veterans have the right to choose from a variety of religious and secular symbols to use as grave markers. Obviously these are private graves that memorialize the individuals buried there. That’s far removed from the government erecting a giant cross and saying it represents all veterans. I’m sure Cruz knows the difference.”
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Pope Francis’ dispute with Donald Trump received a lot of attention, but these comments came the same day and they matter more:  ”Pope Francis on Thursday suggested using artificial contraception in countries afflicted with the Zika virus would be OK for women worried with how the disease is linked to rare birth defects. Calling it a ‘lesser of two evils,’ Francis indicated that choosing to avoid pregnancy altogether would be the better alternative to abortion.”
* This lawsuit in Oklahoma is worth watching: “A US Army reservist who was asked to leave a gun range after identifying himself as a Muslim sued the owners on Wednesday, the latest in a series of cases across the US alleging anti-Islamic discrimination. The lawsuit on behalf of 29-year-old Raja’ee Fatihah, who works for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, was filed in US district court against the owners of Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range in Oktaha, Oklahoma.”
* Faith traditions don’t usually endorse movies, but apparently this one’s a little different: “On February 3, the upcoming indie horror film The Witch benefited from the sort of publicity that its studio, A24, might have shied away from even 10 years ago: The movie was officially endorsed as ‘a Satanic experience’ by the Satanic Temple.”