Sandblasting tombstones? Where did Cruz get that idea?

Sen. Ted Cruz holds a campaign rally on the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant near Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016.
Sen. Ted Cruz holds a campaign rally on the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant near Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. Los Angeles Times/TNS

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?

Here’s what the senator from Texas, a leading Republican presidential hopeful, said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press:

“…if 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.”

For the record, abortion and guns have been perennial partisan crowd pleasers to juice up the bases of both parties. “Religious liberty” has become louder as a rallying cry for conservatives since the Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage last year.

So where do Cruz’s what-ifs about liberals and their alleged intentions toward veterans, their memorials and their tombstones come from?

In an interview, Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler cited several cases where memorials to veterans ‑ in the shape of crosses – built on public land have triggered lengthy legal battles. Critics have argued and courts have found they symbolize a government endorsement of the Christian faith and a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Supporters have disagreed. Scalia himself, in a case involving the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego, said that it was “outrageous” to suggest that its 29-foot cross only honored Christian veterans. The Supreme Court, however, declined to the review the case after lower courts said the memorial was unconstitutional. The lengthy legal battle finally ended last year after the federal government sold the land to a private group.

As for sandblasting the crosses and Stars of David?

Tyler said that Cruz was “projecting that argument forward,” referring to the notion that a cross on public land violated the Constitution

“We have crosses and Stars of David all over federal land,” he said. “You can see them prominently displayed in Arlington National Cemetery, which so far the crosses…have not been sandblasted. The point is if we’re going to be removing crosses on federal land, (the critics’) argument, to be consistent, would have to include all crosses, all Stars of David from the land, which is highlighting the absurdity of the argument.”

“Ridiculous,” countered Rob Boston, a spokesman for American United for Separation of Church and State, a nonpartisan group that champions the First Amendment and weighs in on church-state legal issues.

“No one has ever challenged crosses or other religious symbols at Arlington on private tombstones,” he said. “Families there may choose from a variety of religious and secular symbols for what is obviously a private grave marker.”

David Goldstein: 202-383-6105, @GoldsteinDavidJ