A seven-foot war memorial cross at the center of a nearly 10-year court battle was reported stolen.
The metal cross anchored by rocks and concrete at the Mojave National Preserve in California was removed Sunday night, said Liberty Institute, the group representing those who want the cross to remain in place.
"This is outrage, akin to desecrating people's graves," said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute, in a statement Tuesday. "It's a disgraceful attack on the selfless sacrifice of our veterans. We will not rest until this memorial is re-installed."
The 76-year-old war memorial cross was erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a private organization, to honor the sacrifices of American military personnel who died in service. The memorial's plaques read, "The Cross, Erected in Memory of the Dead of All Wars" and "Erected 1934 by Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Death Valley Post 2884."
A former National Park Services employee, Frank Buono, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in 2001 against the Mojave Desert memorial arguing that the cross represented government endorsement of the Christian religion.
A federal court of appeals ruled that the cross violated the Establishment Clause and ordered it removed.
But on April 28, the Supreme Court ruled the war memorial could stay standing. The justices said "the constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society."
They also said the lower courts did not take enough consideration to the fact that the government decided to transfer the land where the cross is erected to VFW.
"This was a legal fight that a vandal just made personal to 50 million veterans, military personnel and their families," commented VFW National Commander Thomas J. Tradewell, Sr. "To think anyone can rationalize the desecration of a war memorial is sickening, and for them to believe they won't be apprehended is very naive."
Liberty Institute, VFW, The American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the American Ex-Prisoners of Wars, are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the removal of the war memorial, according to the Liberty Institute website.
The Mojave cross case is being sent back to the lower court so it can reconsider its ruling. ACLU said it plans to continue the court battle to tear down the Mojave cross.