By Rees Lloyd
For the first time in some 12 years, Americans will be able to exercise their First Amendment free exercise of religion rights by attending Easter sunrise services at the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial – with the cross established there by veterans to honor veterans once again intact.
The cross was resurrected on Sunrise Rock on Veterans Day 2012 after the extremist ACLU, which has become the Taliban of liberal secularism, surrendered in its fanatical efforts to destroy the cross for almost a dozen years.
The cross that the ACLU sought so intolerantly to destroy was established in 1934 on a rock outcrop known as Sunrise Rock by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to honor their comrade veterans of World War I. It is almost 12 miles off the highway down Cima Road in the Mojave Desert. One has to drive to it to be offended by it. Nonetheless, the extremists of the ACLU sued for more than a decade to destroy it as an alleged violation of the Establishment of Religion Clause.
The ACLU first obtained an order to destroy the cross in 2002 from the U.S. District Court in Riverside, Calif. That triggered a backlash against the ACLU by the American Legion, the largest wartime veterans organization in the world with 2.4-million members in some 14,000 posts, the VFW and other veterans organizations, aided by nonprofit public-interest law centers dedicated to defending religious freedom.
The Legion’s fight back began when a resolution I wrote titled, “Preserve Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial,” was adopted by my Post 79 and District 21 in Riverside County, Calif., in 2003, and by the National American Legion Convention in 2004 sponsored by the Department of California. That Resolution No. 326 authorized what became the Legion’s nationwide crusade to stop the ACLU’s cross-destroying attacks on veterans memorials, under the slogan “For God and Country Forever; Surrender To The ACLU – Never!”
The liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the cross destruction order of the Riverside District Court. However, the Supreme Court, in April, 2010, ruled that the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross is constitutional and ordered it preserved.
The case was remanded to the federal court in Riverside. There, on April 21, 2012, the ACLU finally surrendered, agreeing to cease all efforts to destroy the cross.
The Supreme Court decision in the Mojave Veterans Memorial Cross case (Buono vs. Salazar) may now be used as a precedent to save the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial Cross case – now in its 24th year of litigation by the secular extremists of the ACLU.
While many, many veterans, pro bono attorneys defending religious freedom and legislators led by former Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., helped win the battle to save the Mojave Cross, the true heroes of the victory over the ACLU are Henry and Wanda Sandoz, who describe themselves as “just ordinary Americans trying to do the right thing.”
The Sandozes are hardworking, desert country people of traditional patriotic values. On his deathbed, their friend Riley Brimley, one of the veterans who established the cross in 1934, asked them to promise to care for the cross after he died. They did so for some 30 years, right up to the time the U.S. court ordered the cross destroyed in 2002.
As the litigation war went on, Rep. Jerry Lewis authored and achieved congressional action authorizing the one-acre veterans memorial site to be exchanged for five-acres of private land donated by the Sandozes. Over the ACLU’s objections, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that land exchange legislation as constitutional and not in violation of the Establishment of Religion Clause.
The truth is that without the Sandozes’ donation of their private land, the legal victory saving the cross could not have been won. They have deeded the one-acre memorial site over to the VFW for perpetual care. On Veterans Day 2012, the Sandozes led ceremonies resurrecting the cross at the Mojave Veterans Memorial.
Now, because of them, for the first time in more than a decade, Americans may exercise their right to observe Easter Sunday at sunrise services at the Mojave Veterans Memorial Cross.
“We are so grateful to be able to join with others at the cross on Easter Sunday Sunrise Services at the memorial after all this time. It is wonderful to know the cross will always be there now, despite the ACLU,” said Wanda Sandoz on behalf of herself and her husband, Henry, a mustachioed desert cowboy of few words, short of stature, large of heart.
“We want to thank all those who fought so hard to save the cross: the VFW, the American Legion, Liberty Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom, Thomas More Law Center, the California Legionnaires of the Defense of Veterans Memorials Project and so many more,” said Mrs. Sandoz. “We are very, very grateful to them.”
While the Sandozes are grateful to veterans, veterans are grateful to the Sandozes for being the true heroes of the long litigation war to save the cross from the ACLU. In an expression of that gratitude, the Sandozes will be honored at the California American Legion Convention in Palm Springs, June 28-30, 2013.
May God bless them and all the other patriots who stood and fought to preserve from ACLU desecration of the cross established by World War I veterans so long ago to honor all American veterans, for all time, at the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.
For God and country forever; surrender to the ACLU – never!
Rees Lloyd, a veteran and one time ACLU staff attorney, is now the co-founder and director of the Defense of Veterans Memorial Project of the American Legion Department of California.