To quote from Paul Simon, "The cross is in the ballpark." U.S. District Judge David Sam has ruled that posting a cross to memorialize a fallen Highway Patrol trooper does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

His reasoning — that sometimes religious symbols become secular symbols — is sound and filled with common sense. One can imagine it applied in other areas. For a child to be hoisted by Santa Claus does not mean the child is being taught to rely on the intervention of St. Nicholas. Space and time have created a certain disconnect between the two things.

Still, the cross became a lightning rod in the Highway Patrol case for a reason. It was an excuse, in ways, for deeper concerns.

Some people see the United States as a Christian nation and Christian principles should be the norm. Many of them would likely like to see schoolchildren go back to eating fish on Fridays and let teachers make students memorize the Lord's Prayer. The problem with that, of course, is that forcing Jewish or Muslim children to memorize Christian prayers is unfair on the face of it. Mutual respect and understanding should rule. And when religious issues arise, they should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

On the other side, it's no secret that those fighting to have the crosses removed are not all high-minded constitutional purists. Many have an ax to grind when it comes to religion and, knowing that big issues — like getting the phrase "In God We Trust" chipped off the money — are too much of a challenge, they choose to fight skirmishes and firefights on the edges, hoping a victory here and there will weaken the role of religion in America. They are crusaders as much as the early Christians, with all the ugly short-sightedness and prejudice as their Christian counterparts centuries ago.

In the end, Judge Sam was right. Christian symbols do morph into cultural symbols at times. But that doesn't mean Christians should crow and the non-religious should pout. It means Americans must be careful when such cases arise to treat each one with seriousness and common sense, just as Judge Sam has done with the troopers and the cross.