February 24, 2009
Supreme Court to Consider Case of Cross Monument in Mohave Desert
The Supreme Court decided Monday (Feb. 23) to consider a case about a controversial eight-foot cross that was erected as a war memorial on federal property in California.
The legal battle surrounding the memorial in the Mohave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, Calif., has pitted veterans groups against advocates for church-state separation.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross and a 2004 congressional statute designed to maintain its placement is unconstitutional.
"It is bad enough to say that the veterans' memorial is unconstitutional, but it is outrageous to say that the government cannot give the monument back to the people who spilled their blood and put it there in the first place," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute and attorney for the VFW and other veterans
groups, which sought the high court's review of the case.
After the National Park Service denied a request to erect a Buddhist shrine in the preserve, a visitor to the preserve sued in 2001 because the property was not "open to groups and individuals to erect other free-standing, permanent displays."
The American Civil Liberties Union has represented that visitor, Frank Buono, a former assistant superintendent at the preserve.
"The appeals court rightly found that the statute did not solve the Establishment Clause problem created by a large cross in the midst of a National Preserve," said Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. "In fact, it compounded the problem by continuing to favor this one religious symbol that had already been granted unique access to federal property."
The Supreme Court is already mulling another case involving government property and religious symbols. It heard arguments in the fall about whether a small Utah religious sect should be permitted to erect a monument of its beliefs in a city park that already includes a Ten Commandments monument.