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The Mojave cross
The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear arguments over the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Oct. 7, when the future of a seven-foot-tall cross consisting of two welded pipes will be considered.
The memorial, erected in 1934 by World War I veterans to honor all fallen soldiers, stands in the 1.6 million-acre Mojave National Preserve.
For decades, it served as a reminder to honor the fallen veterans of the United States until a former National Park Service worker who lives in Oregon sued for its removal, according to Liberty Legal Institute, which has been working on defense of the emblem.
A district court decided the memorial was unconstitutional in 2002 and issued an injunction requiring its removal in 2005. Since then, the memorial has been covered, first with a tarp and currently with a plywood box, awaiting a determination from the high court.
“The case is part of a larger trend of assaults on war memorials with religious imagery and all displays with religious symbolism on public property,” Liberty Legal said.
The case, Salazar et al vs. Buono pits five veterans groups representing more than 4 million veterans, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Order of the Purple Heart against the American Civil Liberties Union.
Liberty Legal launched a public campaign called Donttearmedown.com to publicize the dispute, and a video about the situation has been viewed more than 1 million times.
“Our nation is only as secure as we remember those who have given their lives for the freedom that we now have,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute and attorney for the veterans groups. “The issue of saving this veterans memorial is something nearly every American will be interested in.”
The Mojave cross, encased in plywood to prevent people from seeing the symbol
The ACLU claims the memorial violates the First Amendment and has insisted the cross, which originally was unprotected federal property, be destroyed.
“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,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. “This case reveals the extreme lengths the ACLU will go to in order to erase religious monuments.
“For 75 years this cross in the Mojave Desert did not disturb anyone,” Staver continued. “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.”
According to a video on the Don’t Tear Me Down campaign website, the veterans of World War I chose the rock because of the image of a doughboy that appears its creased face under certain light conditions.
In a commentary on WND, Rees Lloyd, a longtime California civil rights attorney, veteran and director of the Defense of Veterans Memorials Project, said the same issues also were involved in the long-running Mt. Soledad Memorial case.
Mt. Soledad cross near San Diego
Lloyd said judges who are not accountable to the people should not be able to overrule what people want. In the Mt. Soledad case, not only was the memorial approved by voters, Congress and the president agreed to protect it, only to be overruled by a single judge.
In the 17-year-long Mt. Soledad case, a judge eventually said the veterans memorial near San Diego is constitutional and can remain.
“When the cross is considered in the context of the larger memorial and especially the numerous other secular elements, the primary effect is patriotic and nationalistic, not religious,” wrote U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns.
“The Court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice,” he said.