Dave is an experienced writer, speaker, and instructor, with decades of law enforcement experience. His first book will be published later this year and draws on his reporting and police skills. Follow Dave on Twitter @davetombersMore ↓Less ↑
While grateful Americans celebrated Veterans Day in many different ways this past Sunday, there were at least 200 people gathered in the Mojave Desert celebrating not only Veterans Day, but also the end of a monumental legal battle over a memorial cross.
The Mojave Veterans Memorial Cross rose again to its original glory and stature, according to the Liberty Institute, at an event Nov. 11 at Sunrise Rock, near Cima, California.
The memorial was restored and reopened after a years-long battle over its existence and a complicated land swap that means the cross now stands on private land, not federal property.
The barren spot where the cross stands in honor of World War I veterans as was intended when it was first put up in 1934 had been the focus of intense legal battles, vandals, and even thieves in recent years.
It was in 2001 when an atheist left the highway and crossed miles of desert to see the cross and complain about being offended at the sight of it. The fact that it was sitting on a section of land owned by the U.S. government became the ACLU’s reason to jump into the fray.
A federal judge ordered that the cross in the middle of nowhere be covered up so that no one else could be offended during what turned out to be over a decade-long legal battle.
Vandals did their best to shred a tarp that covered the cross, so a plywood box had to be built in order to encase the cross inside.
Facing all of the foes that the Mojave Cross had over the years were two dedicated caretakers, Henry and Wanda Sandoz, backed by the VFW and Liberty Institute. The Sandoz’s were simply fulfilling a 28-year-old promise to a friend.
Henry Sandoz had promised Riley Membry back in 1984 before Membry’s death, that he would “watch over” the cross for him.
WND has reported on various stages of the legal battle since 2001, when the original complaint surfaced.
A few years after the first complaint, after vandals had torn apart one cover, and a plywood box had been erected, the United States Congress got into the mix.
A federal law was passed and signed by then-President Bush in 2003, allowing the land that the cross sat on to be swapped for privately owned Mojave Desert land, thereby eliminating the argument that government was endorsing religion.
But the ACLU didn’t like that idea and sued, getting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to agree with them in saying that the new federal law was unconstitutional.
However, in April of 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court overturn that decision and ordered the lower court judges to re-think their position regarding the land swap. Within days of that victory, someone trekked out into the desert, cut down the heavy cross, and disappeared with it.
As Phyllis Schlafly reported for WND in 2010 after the cross theft, “The next day, an anonymous letter was delivered to a local newspaper purporting to explain the motive for the theft. The newspaper printed the letter but did not vouch for its authenticity.”
“The letter-writer falsely claimed that the monument represented ‘favoritism and exclusion’ as well as ‘discrimination or hatred’ against non-Christians. That interpretation was refuted by the majority of the Supreme Court, as well as by the inscription on the cross stating that it honored ‘the Dead of All Wars.’”
Although the original cross has been recovered in recent weeks, found near San Francisco strapped to a fence with a note, a replica of the original, built by Henry Sandoz, has now taken its place on Sunrise Rock.
Of the lengthy legal battle, Jeff Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute, told WND, “I think that this has been a long time coming.”
He tells WND that even after the 2010 Supreme Court decision it took two more years, and a lawsuit against the Obama administration, to get the federal government to finalize the land swap.
David Barton, who keeps track of religious liberty at a website called wallbuilders.com, wrote in February about President Obama being “America’s Most Biblically Hostile President.”
WND reported then that Barton singled out the Mojave Memorial Cross as just one example, saying, “After a federal law was passed to transfer a WWI Memorial in the Mojave Desert to private ownership, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the cross in the memorial could continue to stand, but the Obama administration refused to allow the land to be transferred as required by law, and refused to allow the cross to be re-erected as ordered by the court.”
After a dozen years though, the fight appears to finally be over, and the cross stands as a testament to the fortitude of those fighting for the cause.
“To see the joy on the faces of Henry and Wanda at that ceremony on Sunday in seeing the cross go back up was amazing,” Mateer told WND
“They stood up, and took a commitment they had made to a friend seriously, and through all the ups and downs, they finally got to see that it was all worth it.”