Religious liberties group files brief to restore Mojave cross

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a religious liberties defense firm based in Murrieta, Calif., has joined several other groups in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to save a cross-shaped veterans' memorial in the Mojave Desert.

"Every man and woman who fought our nation's wars and died in service is remembered in local, state and national war memorials," the brief, filed June 8, reads. "It is disheartening to think that these memorials may be gutted because there are those who ignore the unique way the cross has universally honored the choice our soldiers made to lay down their lives for the good of the rest of us."

The groups, including the Alliance Defense Fund and the American Legion Department of California, are seeking to lift a court order that covered the memorial with a large box. A federal court issued the order after the American Civil Liberties Union argued that veterans' memorials in the form of crosses are unconstitutional.  

"One person's agenda shouldn't diminish the sacrifice made by America's veterans and families," said ADF Legal Counsel Tim Chandler. "Americans want these memorials to be protected. What is more important: the feelings of a single 'offended' person or honoring the memory of thousands of American heroes in a way that has been considered constitutional throughout our nation's history? If the Mojave cross is not allowed to stand, then numerous other veterans' memorials are vulnerable to legal attack."

The memorial was first established in 1934 when the Veterans of Foreign Wars placed it on what was then VFW property. Eventually the site became government property and in 2001, the ACLU sued the National Park Service on behalf of a retired park employee because other permanent religious displays had not been erected at the site.  

In 2004, Congress authorized the transfer of the one acre of land under the cross back to the VFW, a private organization, in exchange for five acres of other land. The ACLU argued that the land transfer was unconstitutional, and a federal district judge agreed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the lower court's decision and on Feb. 23, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would accept a review of the case, Salazar v. Buono.  In the meantime, the memorial remains covered by a plywood box.

The same court is also reviewing a similar case involving San Diego's Mount Soledad War Memorial. Although supporters of the memorial, which boasts a large cement cross, have survived more than 18 years of court battles surrounding the historic monument, the ACLU filed another suit last year challenging the legality of the cross. A federal court tossed that case out, prompting the ACLU appeal.

"Through our brief and the compelling stories of these war heroes, we want the court to feel the devastating impact removing the cross will have on those who have sacrificed so much for this country," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel for the Thomas More Law Center.

"Ironically, the ALCU wants to use the very Constitution these veterans protected with their lives to eliminate the memory of their heroic sacrifices."

Rancho Santa Fe's Chuck LiMandri, who heads the West Coast office for the center, was the primary attorney working on behalf of the cross until its transfer to the federal government.

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