Supreme Court Saves the Mojave Desert Cross – For Now

Brian Walsh /

United States Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday handed a defeat to activists and other litigants whose extreme views motivate them to try to eliminate from public life almost every symbol and expression of religion. By a slim 5-4 margin, the Court in Salazar v. Buono reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and allowed an 8-foot cross in the Mojave Desert to continue to stand – at least for now. The cross is part of a national memorial for the over 300,000 American soldiers who died in World War I.

Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the primary opinion and concluded that the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit erred when it held that the U.S. could not carry out Congress’s directive to transfer the small parcel of land on which the memorial is located to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The VFW is a private, non-governmental organization, and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not apply to religious activities, expressions, or symbols by private parties.

Congress passed the law directing transfer of the land to the VFW after the lower federal courts had held that merely having a cross on federal land violated the Establishment Clause. The outlandish basis for the Ninth Circuit’s holding is, as Justice Kennedy put it, that plaintiff Frank Buono, a retired U.S. Park Service employee, “claims to be offended by the presence of a religious symbol on federal land.” (more…)