Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Military heroes from across the nation sent a letter today to President Obama asking for help to restore a veterans’ memorial cross that stood in the Mojave Desert for generations but was knocked down by vandals after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the symbol.
According to the Liberty Institute, signers of the letter included representatives from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart and Liberty Institute.
“This impasse is at a point where we now need your intervention as our nation’s leader, Mr. President, on decisive action to direct restoration of the memorial to its original form,” the letter says.
WND reported in April when the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion that effectively raised the bar for those who express an “offense” because of the Christian faith.
In the majority decision delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court said, “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm. A cross by the side of a public highway marking, for instance, the place where a state trooper perished need not be taken as a statement of governmental support for sectarian beliefs. The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.”
The Mojave Cross encased in plywood to prevent people from seeing the symbol
Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Roberts and Alito filed additional concurring opinions. Antonin Scalia filed a concurring opinion that was joined by Clarence Thomas. Opposing the ruling were John Paul Stevens, Ruth Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer.
According to the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that has worked on the issue, the focal point of the case was whether someone who has suffered no harm but only claims being “offended” can sue to destroy religious references on public monuments and memorials.
Only 10 days after the ruling was announced, someone cut down the steel-pipe cross in the dark of night. An activist a short time later put up a replacement, but the federal government, which now supervises the location, removed it because the replacement had not been authorized.
The cross, originally set in place by World War I veterans in 1934, is the only World War I memorial designated a national monument by Congress.
The case didn’t end with the ruling from the Supreme Court. It was returned to the lower court to review a transfer of title to the land to a private organization – a solution worked out because of objections to the cross remaining on “federal” land.
Liberty Institute has created a video explaining the case:
According to Liberty Institute, the National Park Service and the Department of Justice now are refusing to restore the memorial.
“Allowing a national memorial to our veterans to sit in a vandalized state for possibly years is totally unacceptable,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute. “It dishonors our veterans and the remembrance of their selfless sacrifice, and it flouts the rule of law and a direct decision of the Supreme Court.”
The organization said Henry Sandoz, the volunteer who has taken care of the memorial for the last 26 years, has created an exact replica of what was torn down. He is ready to reinstall it but cannot because of the federal government’s opposition.
The VFW and Liberty Institute also have offered a reward of $125,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the criminals who tore it down. The destruction of the cross is a federal crime under the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003.
Liberty Institute has set up a Put the Cross Back website to coordinate information about the case, generate support and lobby for a solution.
“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 Shackelford at the time.
The high court’s decision reversed the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and returned the case to a lower court to address the issue of the congressionally mandated transfer of the site where the cross sits to a private interest, the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“The VFW is grateful the Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit’s decision,” Joe Davis, public-affairs director of the VFW, said at the time. “As this case now goes back to the court below, this box must come down. This and every veterans’ memorial should be respected for those it honors, not covered or torn down.”
Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, said the issue is bigger than a single monument – or even all the monuments.
“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. 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. For now the cross will remain,” he said.
But he warned the Constitution “should not depend on 5-4 votes with fractured opinions.”
“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.”
Staver was referring to the fact that Justice Stevens is retiring, and President Obama already has nominated a military critic, Elena Kagan, to replace him. Obama’s first appointment to the court, Sotomayor, joined in the minority dissent that would have ordered the destruction of the cross.
The memorial was originally erected in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars 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, which became a regular occurrence in 1984.
According to the National Park Service, the gatherings by private parties somehow transformed the war memorial into a religious shrine of sorts 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 Park Service.
The ACLU, which brought the case on behalf of a retired Park Service worker, Frank Buono, instead insisted that the cross be torn down.
The majority opinion said the government’s decision to transfer ownership of the land was a reasonable resolution to an otherwise unsolvable problem.
Chief Justice John Roberts summed up the case in a paragraph.
“At oral argument, respondent’s counsel stated that it ‘likely would be consistent with the injunction’ for the government to tear down the cross, sell the land to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and return the cross to them, with the VFW immediately raising the cross again. … I do not see how it can make a difference for the government to skip that empty ritual and do what Congress told it to do – sell the land with the cross on it,” he wrote. “The Constitution deals with substance, not shadows.”
A video publicizing the dispute has collected several million views:
Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, warned before the decision, “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.”