The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on whether a seven-foot cross on government-owned ground can stand without violating the Constitution’s ban on establishment of religion by the government.
"This is a critical case that will once again put the spotlight on the constitutionality of religious displays and the proper role of the government and its actions," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which will file an amicus brief supporting the government's position.
Eight years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Frank Buono, a former National Park Services employee, against the Mojave Desert memorial – a seven-foot-tall memorial cross erected more than 70 years ago by World War I veterans.
Congress made attempts to designate the cross as a national memorial and to transfer one acre of land that included the memorial to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. But the District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the cross and the land transfer violated the Establishment Clause and ordered it removed.
The fate of the cross, which has been covered in a plywood box since 2002, now rests with the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments this Wednesday.
The case, Salazar v. Buono, is being watched closely by church-state separationists and veterans organizations concerned about how they are represented by memorials – and whether the case could lead to removal of other.
Earlier this year, veterans groups pleaded for the support of Americans to save the memorial cross and thousands like it. They made it clear that the cross was not erected as a religious symbol, but rather to honor those who sacrificed their lives for the country.
The groups said they were disturbed that the ACLU would try to tear down a veterans memorial in their continued efforts to rid the country of religious symbols.
"World War I memorials all over the world are crosses," noted Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute. "That was the universal symbol that was used to reflect sacrifice."
Liberty Legal and five veterans groups representing four million former servicemen and women are urging Americans to stand with them by signing a petition at www.donttearmedown.com to express their support for veterans.
Shackelford says tens of thousands of memorials across the country are threatened if the Supreme Court upholds the appeals court ruling.