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Wednesday April 28, 2010

Supreme Court Shakily Upholds Mojave Cross Display 5-4

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 28, 2010 ( – In a 5-4 majority ruling filed today, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the continued display of a lone cross in California’s Mojave Desert memorializing veterans of World War I.

In Salazar v. Buono, the ACLU filed suit to remove the 8-foot cross. Following the lower court ruling, the cross was covered with a cloth and now is boxed in with plywood so it looks like a blank sign. It remained that way pending this final decision.

The memorial was originally erected in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) as a wooden cross with a plaque stating, “The Cross, Erected in Memory of the Dead of All Wars” and “Erected 1934 by Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Death Valley Post 2884.” Beginning in 1935, people gathered intermittently at the site for Easter services, and those services became a regular occurrence in 1984.

According to the National Parks Service, those gatherings by private parties transformed the war memorial into a religious shrine and disqualified it from being included in the National Register of Historic Places. Congress then enacted a series of laws aimed at preserving the monument, including, most recently, a land exchange that would transfer ownership of the land upon which the monument rests to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in exchange for its donation of an equivalent piece of property to the Parks Service. The ACLU nonetheless insisted that the cross be torn down.

Joining in the majority were Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas. Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Breyer filed dissenting opinions.

The Supreme Court ruling allows the cross to stay for now, but the case will be sent back to the district court with instructions to consider the significant change brought about by the transfer of land to private parties.

Following the ruling, Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law, commented that: “Passive displays like the World War I Memorial, the Ten Commandments, Nativity scenes, or statements like the National Motto do not force anyone to participate in a religious exercise and, thus, do not establish religion.”

“This case reveals the extremism of the ACLU,” said Staver. “For 75 years this cross in the Mojave Desert did not disturb anyone. It stood as a memorial to the heroes of World War I.

“Removing this memorial would be an insult to our war veterans. Doing so under the guise of the First Amendment is an insult to the Framers of the Constitution.”

Staver expressed concern that the Court’s opinion of the simple cross was so divided.

“The Constitution should not depend on 5-4 votes with fractured opinions,” he said. “If the courts returned to the original understanding of the Constitution, then these First Amendment religion cases would be easy. The next Justice on the Supreme Court must be committed to upholding the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution.”

Rev. Rob Schenck, president of Faith and Action, in a statement Wednesday called the ruling “a victory for the First Amendment and for the rights of citizens, including veterans, to use meaningful symbols like the cross in public displays.”

“It’s not just common sense, it’s in keeping with our most cherished beliefs, customs and values,” said Schenck. “This is a day to thank God for our freedoms in this country and for judges that have the integrity to uphold them.”

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