Supreme Court Sends Mojave Desert Cross Case Back To Lower Court

April 28, 2010 12:00 am

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ACLU To Continue To Argue That Land Transfer To Private Veterans Group Does Not Remedy Establishment Clause Violation

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WASHINGTON – In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today remanded a case concerning a Latin cross in the Mojave National Preserve back to the district court, saying that the lower court used the wrong legal standard in deciding to invalidate a transfer of the land on which the cross sits to private ownership. The American Civil Liberties Union will continue to argue that the cross, as it currently stands, does not remedy the government's unconstitutional endorsement of one particular religion.

The case, Salazar v. Buono, stems from a complaint raised by Frank Buono, a veteran and former assistant superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, who claimed that the designation of an overtly religious symbol as a national war memorial was offensive and violated the separation of church and state. The Court ruled that the lower court did not take into account the historical context of the cross, which was erected in 1934 by veterans of World War I and has been replaced several times since then. The most recent cross was built and looked after by private citizens. Congress designated the cross as a national memorial, one of only 49 such memorials around the country, in 2002.

The following can be attributed to Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney and Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights for the ACLU of Southern California, who argued the case before the Supreme Court in October:

"Although we're disappointed by today's decision, we're encouraged that the case is not over. We will continue to argue that the land transfer did not remedy the violation of the Establishment Clause.

"The cross is unquestionably a sectarian symbol, and it is wrong for the government to make such a deliberate effort to maintain it as a national memorial.

"It's worth noting that seven members of the Court rejected the government's argument that Frank Buono had no right to challenge the land transfer. In addition, the scope of the decision is narrowed by language that ties it to the history of this particular cross and Congress's response to it."

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