BARSTOW, Calif. Congress passed a resolution condemning the theft of the Mojave Cross memorial and urged federal officials to allow veterans groups to replace the memorial.
The House voted unanimously Sept. 28 to support the resolution by Congressmen Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and Ken Calvert (R-Corona). The resolution was proposed shortly after the cross was stolen under the cover of darkness May 9, less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the cross could remain in the public park.
The court case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was in response to a former National Park Service employee who had complained the cross violated the separation of church and state and filed a lawsuit.
Previously, lower courts had ruled that the Mojave Cross was an unconstitutional display of a religious symbol on government land.
"Supporting our veterans is one of the top priorities for members of Congress, and I am grateful that my colleagues took this important measure up before we went out of session," said Lewis. "Congress has repeatedly voted overwhelmingly to protect the Mojave Cross as a memorial to veterans and those who have died to defend our nation, and it is vital that we continue that support."
The seven-foot-tall monument stood bolted on Sunrise Rock for more than 75 years.
The memorial was established to honor veterans who have died defending the nation, Lewis said. The government has never maintained it, and the land on which it sits was transferred by law to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in exchange for other land within the Mojave National Preserve.
The case is now back in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals where it is reconsidering the plan by Congress to transfer the acreage of federal land where the stolen cross used to stand to private ownership by the VFW.
"Legislation was approved by Congress and signed into law that would resolve this problem by removing the land from government ownership, and it is time to complete this process that has gone on for more than a decade now," Lewis said.
"It is time to give our veterans groups the ability to replace this important memorial to those who gave their lives to defend our nation and freedoms."
Park officials have asked anyone with information about the theft to call (760) 252-6120. Liberty Legal has offered a $125,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.