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Religious Tolerance logo

Conflict over the Mojave cross

Description of the cross & its history.
What the cross signifies to people

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About the cross:

picture of Mojave Cross 1

In 1934, a prospector, John "Riley" Bembry, personally fabricated a 6-foot-tall wooden Christian cross and installed it in the Mojave National Preserve, allegedly on behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). It is on the top of a 30-foot-high rock outcropping called Sunrise Rock, about 11 miles south of I-15, adjacent to Chima Road.  The Preserve is located in San Bernardino County, CA which is between Barstow, CA and Las Vegas, NV.

The records of the National Park Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management contain no reference to anyone having asked permission to mount the cross. 5

A plaque at the base of the cross originally stated: "The Cross, Erected in Memory of the Dead of All Wars." That certainly would have honored the American soldiers who had died in World War I. It is unclear whether it was intended to also honor the German soldiers in the same war, and/or the civilians of various nationalities who also died. The plaque disappeared many years ago. The cross itself has been replaced many times over the years. 1,2 The current cross was installed by Henry Sanddoz, a local resident, in 1998. 3

The cross was originally maintained by the National Park Service, It was designated by Congress as a war memorial. Its present form it has been described as both a large and small cross by various reporters. In reality, it is an eight-foot tall Latin cross, a symbol used mainly by Protestants. It was fabricated from two metal pipes welded together and painted white.

In 1999, a Buddhist group applied to the National Park Service for permission to have a stupa -- a domed shrine -- erected near the cross. Superintendent Mary Martin denied their request. During the same year, the ACLU of Southern California asked Martin to meet with the private individual responsible for maintaining the cross and ask if he would voluntarily remove it. He refused and promised to put the cross back if the Park Service removed it. 4 The Park Service stated that it intended to remove the cross because the bureau had never authorized its installation. They did not act on their intention. 3

About the year 2000, U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) initiated a bill to prevent the use of any federal funds to remove the cross.

In 2001, Congress passed another bill to have a memorial plaque installed at the base of the cross that described the cross as a "... national memorial commemorating United States participation in World War I and honoring the American veterans of that war."

What the cross signifies to people:

A cross signifies many things to different people:

bulletTo most Americans, it symbolizes the execution of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ)  circa 30 CE. To many Christians it represents the belief that God is able to forgive the sins of those humans who meet certain criteria because his son, Yeshua, was tortured to death by the army of the Roman Empire. To many conservative Christians, removal of the cross would represent a major assault by secularists on their freedom of religious worship.
bulletTo many Native Americans, the cross symbolizes the European invasion of the Americas starting in the year 1492 CE, and the subsequent genocide and enslavement of a very large percentage of Natives then living in North America, South America and the Caribbean.
bulletTo many Jews, the cross is viewed as a Christian symbol that recalls millennia of oppression, violence and mass murder against Jews by Christians. This anti-Judaism eventually morphed into anti-semitism, and paved the way for the Shoa (catastrophe; a.k.a. the Nazi Holocaust) About one third of the Jewish men, women and children in Europe were systematically murdered -- about six million in total.
bullet To many Roma, (a.k.a. the now derogatory term "Gypsies") the cross also recalls their oppression by Christians in Europe for many centuries. That persecution also paved the way for the Nazi Holocaust, which they refer to as the Porajmos (the devouring). Their oppression continues today, and represents the most serious current civil rights problem in many European countries.
bulletSome individuals who are involved in the court cases concerning this cross maintain that a cross is not a uniquely Christian symbol. They view it as being not even a religious symbol. They view it as a generic secular symbol that refers to personal sacrifice.

The New York Times reports that: "The cross has also been the site of Easter sunrise services for more than 70 years." 3 This display of respect to the empty cross on Easter Sunday is a reflection of the importance given to the resurrection of Yeshua in which most Christians believe. It reinforces the religious nature of the cross as being more significant than its meaning as a memorial to the victims of warfare. If this were not so then they would hold their sunrise services at this cross on Memorial Day.

The story continues...

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Photo copied from the http://www.examiner.com/ on 2010-MAY-23. Photographer unknown.
  2. Kimberly Edds, "Cross in Mojave Desert Preserve Barred. 9th Circuit Agrees 'War Memorial' Violates Separation of Church and State," Washington Post, 2009-JUN-09.
  3. "The Constitution and the Cross," Editorial, The New York Times, 2009-OCT-06, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  4. "Last Stand for the Mojave Cross? Supreme Court Only Option to Stay Removal of Giant Cross after 9th Circuit Ruling," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, 2008-MAY-23, at: http://www.commondreams.org/
  5. Sandhya Bathija, "Religious Right Groups Are Trying To Rein In Citizens? Right To Challenge Government-Sponsored Religious Symbols," Americans United, 2009-SEP, at: http://www.au.org/

Copyright © 2001 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-MAY-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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