Mojave cross stolen two weeks after U.S. Supreme Court ruling
Two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled to protect the Mojave Desert War Memorial, thieves stole the Sunrise Rock cross.
On May 10, a Park employee noticed the cross was missing and said it was probably removed during the night, according to CityWatch (CW).
An anonymous caller who clamed to know who stole the cross sent an email to a reporter saying the cross was “lovingly” removed and would be returned after a non-sectarian memorial is placed on the site, CW reported.
CW cited US Reps Buck McKeon, Ken Calvert and Congressman Jerry Lewis who condemned the theft of the cross. Calvert called it an act of vandals and an insult to anyone who had served in the US Armed Forces.
Calvert also promised that he, Congressmen Lewis, McKeon, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Liberty Institute will work with all involved entities to recover the cross and replace it on its rightful place on Sunrise Rock, CW reported.
Wanda Sandoz, who with her husband Henry were longtime caretakers of the cross said, “Whoever did this either cut it off or put a chain around it a dragged it off with their vehicle,” according to CW.
The memorial was first set up in 1934 by a group of World War I veterans. It has been torn down and replaced twice, and 10 years ago received the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), according to The Press Enterprise.
The Park Service has collected some physical evidence from where the cross was located, and investigators are reviewing messages left on a tip hot line that was set up after the theft, The Press Enterprise said.
Liberty Institute is also offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who vandalized the area and stole the cross, according to CityWatch.
In 1999, the ACLU sued to have the cross removed after a former employee of the park, Frank Buono, retired and moved to Oregon, then claimed that it offended him to see the cross on public land, according to the Tulsa Beacon.
In 2002, the U.S. District Court in Riverside, California ruled in favor of the ACLU case. An appeal was immediately filed to forestall the cross’ removal, but it was covered by a wooden box, the Tulsa Beacon reported.
Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), helped the Legionnaires get the cross legally designated as the “National WWI Veterans Memorial” and worked in Congress to transfer a one-acre tract of land containing the cross to private ownership through a land swap deal, the Tulsa Beacon reported.
The ACLU complained that this was done solely to evade the District Court’s order for the cross to be removed. In the appeal, the 9th Circuit Court upheld the lower court’s decision and invalidated the congressional act in transferring the land to private ownership, according to the Tulsa Beacon.
However when the case was raised to the U. S. Supreme Court, the decisions of both lower courts were overturned by a 5-4 vote, and the SC refused to order the removal of the cross, the Tulsa Beacon noted.
Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement (of religion) does not require the eradication of all religions’ symbols in the public realm.”