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Arguments were delivered today before the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of a seven-foot memorial cross erected by veterans of America’s wars in honor of all fallen comrades, and one of the attorneys who filed a brief says if the justices rule against the cross, they’ll have to call out the bulldozers and sandblasters to destroy all of the other references to God and Christianity across the nation’s landscape.
“If you tear down a seven-foot cross in the middle of the Mojave Desert, 1.6 million acres, what will you have to do to crosses in Arlington National Cemetery and all the other memorials in highly trafficked, prominent locations?” wondered Kelly Shackelford of Liberty Legal Insitute, which is among the organizations that have worked on the Mojave Cross case.
“The implications are large and we just don’t know if the court is going there,” he said. “But what about the Tomb of the Unknown, [where an inscription reads] ‘Known but to God.’ Or the Supreme Court [which has multiple images of the Ten Commandments]. They’ll have to call out the bulldozers and sandblasters.”
The Mojave Cross, encased in plywood to prevent people from seeing the symbol
Shackelford said from the comments by justices hearing arguments by the Justice Department in defense of the monument and lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union in its attack on the Christian symbol it appeared there was a consensus that the monument should be able to stand.
He reported even Justice Ruth Ginsberg, who is on the liberal end of the court’s ideological spectrum, suggested there should be some way for the federal government to transfer the land holding the monument to the veterans organization that originally erected the memorial.
Shackelford said the first step is to get the “ridiculous” plywood box removed from the memorial so people again can see the cross. Then, he said, what is needed is a statement from the court that there are Christian-related images at memorials across the nation, which was founded by primarily Christian leaders.
And the court needs to say they are all right, he said.
The Mojave Cross
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.
It served for decades until a former National Park Service worker who lives in Oregon sued for its removal.
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 and 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,” Shackelford said at the time.
The ACLU claims the memorial violates the First Amendment and has insisted the cross be destroyed.
“This display is not only appropriate but constitutional as well and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will reach that conclusion,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. “To create a constitutional crisis by displaying a … cross honoring war veterans is clearly wrong.”
He said the case is a “perfect example of a troubling phenomenon” that’s plagued the federal court system for years – ideologically motivated citizens and public interest groups search out Establishment Clause violations – often in the form of a passive religious symbol or display of some sort – and turn it into a federal case because they are “offended.”
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 in its creased face under certain light conditions.
Robert Knight, senior writer for Coral Ridge Ministries and a senior fellow with the American Civil Rights Union, said there is much at stake.
“An ACLU victory could imperil crosses and Stars of David on the graves of soldiers in 22 war memorial cemeteries and encourage the ACLU to look for yet more targets. They are still trying to tear down the 29-foot Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross near San Diego. In recent years, they’ve sued to have religious symbols removed from the seals of Stow, Ohio; Redlands, California; Duluth, Minnesota; Plattsmouth, Nebraska; and Republic, Missouri. In Los Angeles, the mere threat of an ACLU lawsuit motivated the County Board of Supervisors to vote to remove a cross from the county seal in 2004 despite the wishes of 94 percent of the residents,” he said.
Mathew Staver, chairman and chief counsel of Liberty Counsel, said, “This case reveals the extremism of the ACLU. 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.”
Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, said, “The ACLU hates crosses as much as vampires hate crosses or the daylight. Despite their claims to the contrary, this case is part of the ACLU’s national agenda to incrementally remove every cross on public land. Their guiding principle is ‘out of sight out of mind.’ The court’s ruling in this case will impact crosses in thousands of memorials nationwide.”