Conflict over the Mojave cross
A possible compromise. Comments on the
cross & lawsuit by individuals and groups
A possible compromise:
Rather than removing the cross, the display could easily be expanded to include:
|A Jewish Star of David
to honor Jewish veterans, |
|Other symbols from other world religions to recognize veterans of other
|Various secular symbols to honor non-religious, Agnostic, Atheist, Humanist veterans, etc.
Then it would become a cultural display, and be accepted by the courts as constitutional. It would also then be
more representative of the full diversity of World War I veterans, whether they
followed Christianity, another religion, or no religion. 1
Unfortunately, if this approach were taken, then Christianity would
not be the only faith represented at the memorial. Some people who strongly
believe that the U.S. is a Judeo-Christian country and was founded as a
Christian country. They would find this solution unacceptable.
Comments on the cross and lawsuit by various individuals and groups:
There have been 19 amica curiae briefs filed in support of the petitioner and
in support of the preservation of the cross. Eleven briefs have been filed in
support of the respondent and the removal of the cross.
The case has been well covered in the media.
|The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a fundamentalist Christian
group promoting freedom of religious expression. They filed a
friend-of-the-court brief urging the preservation of the Mojave cross. Eric Rassbach, their national
litigation director, said: "If the Supreme Court strikes down this
memorial, tens of thousands of memorials around the country stand at risk."
|In response, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United
for the Separation of Church and State said that this would be true only if
the memorials are also government-sanctioned religious symbols that violate
the Constitution and falsely claim to represent all of our country's veterans.
"The cross is a powerful symbol of the Christian faith. It does not
represent all Americans who have died protecting our country. It does not
represent the 29% of our current service members in the military who are not
We are unable to determine precisely to which memorials Rassbach is
referring. He couldn't be referring to religious symbols on individual
veteran's gravestones because those symbols are considered religious speech
and are protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. He could
not refer to those veterans' cemeteries owned by non-profit groups; the
establishment clause would not apply to them, because the cemeteries are not
During the oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ginsberg
asked whether "... there any other national memorial that consists of a
solitary cross, just that one symbol and no other?" U.S. Solicitor
General Elana Kagan,
representing the petitioners who favor preservation of the cross, responded:
"I don't believe that there is, Justice Ginsburg. There are national memorials
that have some religious content to them. There is, for example, a statue of a
Catholic priest holding a very large cross, but most national memorials are --
are not religious. Some are." 4
|The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, The American Legion,
the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars
Department of California, and the American Ex-prisoners of War
filed a joint brief with the Court of Appeals. It argued that:|
|"A cross is a common symbol honoring the courage and sacrifice of
|"Religious imagery such as a cross is deeply entrenched in American
|To remove the cross after 75 years is "an unreasonably hostile decision
contrary to the requirements of the Establishment Clause."|
|If the court order the removal of the cross, countless veteran's memorials
would be effected. 5|
|Some veterans' groups have also filed friend-of-the-court briefs asking
the Supreme Court to order removal of the cross. They included: the
Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, the American Muslim
Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Councils, the Muslim American
Veterans Association and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States.
Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) also opposes the cross
at that location, but joined with the brief prepared by Americans United.|
Col. David Antoon is a member of the MRFF. He spent 25 years on active duty
in the Air Force, He feels that the government's endorsement of the Christian
symbol excludes non-Christian service members. He said that it is not only
divisive, but is another example of how sectarian religion is becoming:
"... part of the fabric of the military. ... The military should be
totally blind to religious faith. This really is destroying the diversity in
our military -- the diversity that makes this country great."
|The New York Times published an editorial, saying in part:|
"The Supreme Court will first consider whether Mr. Buono has standing to challenge the
cross. The cross's supporters argue that he has not really been injured and,
therefore, should not be able to sue. But as someone who was in contact with
the cross and was offended by its presence, he was injured. More precisely,
though, in this case, Mr. Buono has won a court injunction against the cross,
and Congress's land transfer interferes with his injunction. He has a right to
challenge the transfer."
"On the merits, the appeals court was right that the cross must come down.
By allowing a Christian cross, and not symbols of other faiths, on federal
land, the government was favoring one religion over others. Also, Congress has
designated the cross as a national memorial, which means that it continues to
have official government endorsement."
"The land transfer was mere window-dressing. Bypassing normal procedures for
disposing of government land, Congress gave the land to an entity it
understood would keep up the cross, and it provided that the land would be
returned if it was not used as a memorial."
"Religious symbolism of this kind on government land is, by its very nature,
exclusionary. Allowing only a cross to stand over the memorial sends a message
to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others that their sacrifices, and their family
members' sacrifices, are not appreciated or mourned."
"It also sends a message that state and church are intertwined. A single
cross does not, by itself, mean America has an established religion, but if
the Supreme Court stops caring that the government is promoting a particular
religion, we will be down the path toward having one."
The New York Times is wrong. There is no reason
why "... the cross must come down." There remain two additional
|Unbolt the cross from its rock anchor, transport it to a piece of private land, and re-erect it.|
|Leave the cross where it is and augment it with symbols from other religions and from secular philosophies. This would convert
the memorial into a cultural display that represents the religious and secular beliefs of
all combatants, not just some. This would convert a divisive
symbol that recognized only about 70% of the combatants and denigrated the
status of the remaining 30% into a unifying symbol representing all of the
|The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the
Interfaith Alliance filed an amicus curia brief that supported Buono's
right to launch the lawsuit. It said, in part:|
"Seeing one's faith receive
preferential government treatment, while aware that no minority faith would
receive that treatment, demonstrates the government's perversion of religion
for its own ends. The government is taking something that should be a symbol
of voluntary religious belief and practice and using it in a way that alters
its apparent symbolism by making it look like an 'official' faith."
"It is not surprising that devout, voluntary adherents of a religion would
not want to send the signal to those who do not share in the religion of the
majority that they are political outsiders. Where the government endorses one
religion over all others, it weakens the sanctity of that religion and its
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- John Welsh, "Ruling may mean end of Mojave cross: LAWSUIT: The ACLU
convinces a judge that a religious symbol has no place on public land,"
The Press-Enterprise at: http://www.pe.com/
- "Salazar v. Buono: Briefs and Document," ScotusWiki, at:
- Sandhya Bathija, "Religious Right Groups Are Trying To Rein In Citizens? Right To Challenge
Government-Sponsored Religious Symbols," Americans United, 2009-SEP, at:
- A transcript of the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on 2009-OCT-07
is available at:
This is a PDF file.
- On Petition for a Writ of Certiorari..." Filed 2008-NOV-10, at:
- "The Constitution and the Cross," Editorial, The New York Times,
- Robert Marus, "Supreme Court gets technical in arguments on Mojave cross,"
Associated Baptist Press, at:
Copyright © 2001 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-OCT-09
Author: B.A. Robinson