Mojave Desert Cross has its day in U.S. Supreme Court
Most American Christians have probably heard of the Mojave Desert Memorial Cross controversy; a monument caught in the cross-fires of the First Amendment religious free speech battle.
On October 6, the U.S. Supreme Court finally heard the Mojave Desert Cross case, and will decide in a few months, once and for all, if the cross violates the First Amendment’s “separation of church and state” clause.
The fact that this “separation” clause is an invisible phrase invented by a court interpretation that may itself violate the First Amendment is very ironic. But we must put that aside for a moment.
Here’s some background to the Mojave Desert Memorial Cross case:
In 1934, an eight-foot cross was erected in California’s Mojave Desert as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in World War I.
It sits in the middle of the desert, where cars may drive by quickly, and one would have to look right at it to notice it. The problem is, it’s on government property and permission wasn’t sought for its erection.
In 1994, the National Park Service acquired the land with the Mojave cross. This increased the profile of the cross. Within a few years, a Buddhist organization wanted to put up a shrine near the cross, and was refused. A lawsuit was filed with the help of the ACLU. This quickly transformed from being a case of discrimination to questioning the legality of the cross’s existence on the property.
In and out of courtrooms for nearly a decade, the Mojave cross was deemed illegal by a federal court, but a judge decided to just keep it covered; first with cloth, then with plywood.
In 2001, Congress, now Republican-led after President George W. Bush was elected, refused the federal dollars it would have cost to remove the cross. An attempt was made in California court to transfer the plot of land on which the cross sits to private ownership, in exchange for other land, but it was turned down on the basis that the “separation” issue would not be solved by that action.
In June 2009, Liberty Counsel filed a brief in support of the cross. Those interested can see the law firm’s efforts so far in the Mojave case (legally, Salazar v. Buono) here. So, the case for removal of the Mojave Desert cross, covered with a wooden box to this day, finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, October 6, 2009.
The Supreme Court has been handling Christian monuments on a case-by-case basis, giving some the thumbs up for historical value, and others a thumbs down for encroaching on the “separation” clause.
Countless polls by religious and non-religious organizations show the majority of Americans don’t mind religious symbols like crosses, menorahs and Christmas trees in public places. It remains to be seen if an activist Supreme Court will see it the majority’s way.