Supremes Hear Challenge to Mojave Cross

Eight foot high cross on Sunrise Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve. Below, cross is covered during court fight. Lower photo by Eric Reed.

Veterans’ memorial at Mojave National Preserve:
Supreme Court hears challenge to eight-foot cross

The ACLU argued that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and should not be treated as a single, favored religious symbol.

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / October 8, 2009

An 8 foot cross has stood atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve since 1934. It was supposedly erected to honor America’s soldiers in World War I. But is it really proper to erect a religious symbol in a National Preserve or Park, especially since the Park Service turned down a request to erect a Buddhist monument nearby?

That is the question that was being discussed by the United States Supreme Court yesterday. A former National Park Service employee felt it was inappropriate for the National Preserve to favor one religion over others, and took the matter to court. A federal judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the display was unconstitutional, and the government appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Obama administration supports leaving the cross in the park. As much as I respect President Obama, I have to disagree with him on this one. I have no problem with a memorial honoring World War I soldiers being in the preserve, but why does it have to be a christian symbol (and the cross is recognized worldwide as a christian symbol).

Christians would be opposed to the memorial being a religious symbol from any other religion, so I really don’t understand why they think it’s OK to force their own symbol on Americans who believe in other religions. Personally, as an atheist, I don’t believe symbols of any religion should be placed on government land.

In an attempt to do an end run around the Constitution, the National Preserve has transferred ownership of the cross and the bit of land underneath it to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). This is not real ownership, because the VFW can’t sell the land and if they remove or fail to provide upkeep on the cross, the land will revert back to the National Preserve.

The ACLU argued that the cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and should not be treated as a single, favored religious symbol. Judge Scalia tried to argue that the cross didn’t just represent christian soldiers, but was a “common symbol” to honor war dead.

That’s a ridiculous argument. One look at national cemeteries for war dead shows that crosses are used for Christian dead, while other symbols are used for those of a different faith. There is even a designated symbol for atheists.

No matter how long the cross has stood in the Mojave National Preserve, it should be removed. Allowing only a Christian symbol amounts to government designating a favorite or “official” religion, and that is unconstitutional.

Americans practice many faiths, and many practice no religion at all. Their tax money helps support the National Park System, and they should not be forced to support someone else’s religion.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

The Rag Blog

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9 Responses to Supremes Hear Challenge to Mojave Cross

  1. Anonymous says:

    I don’t believe in God, and I say let it stand. Where I live people erect small crosses and place flowers where loved ones have been killed in car accidents, and no one messes with them or makes a fuss about it.

    Two crossed pieces of wood shouldn’t bother anyone.

    Let’s hope one day they’ll put up a bronzed monument for these veterans, and make it clear to who it’s dedicated. Until then, something that’s excisted for 75 years without complaint should not be taken down because of a few with twisted notions.

  2. I live 2 hours from this park. My husband retired from the Marine Corps, and spent a number of years near this park (29 Palms).

    This is a revered and respected symbol; it has nothing to do with religion, and the Marines who have many different faiths, also respect this tribute to the veterans.

    Just a little history that might help people to understand more about this particular story and why it means so much to the veterans of today and of yesteryear:

    After the war, many veterans returned to their homes suffering from tuberculosis and the effects of the mustard gas that had been used in combat. Dr. James B. Luckie from Pasadena, California, treated many of these men and in the 1920s began to search for an area in the California desert that would provide a beneficial environment for people afflicted with respiratory and heart ailments. After visiting many places, he chose Twentynine Palms because it had a moderate elevation and clean dry air, as well as being accessible to large cities. Veterans brought their families and began homesteading the 160-acre parcels then made available to settlers by the federal government at no cost. It was this homesteading that determined the widespread area that is Twentynine Palms today.

    I live 5 miles from the Mojave County line – it is a beautiful enormous desert; one can see for miles and miles from some of the higher points – I don’t think something that has survived 75 years with the history behind it, should be tampered with.

    I’m an agnostic and I see nothing wrong with using a well=recognized and respected symbol that often represents the memory and the trials as well as death, of a group of people who’ve suffered; who’ve been courageous citizens, and this cross is a wonderful sight to see against the stark wildnerness.

    It’s even been used as a landmark by which people have been able to give a direction and location when they’ve been lost in these parts; it continues to save lives of those stranded in the desert as well as comfort them.

  3. How can a cross, recognized worldwide as a symbol of christianity, not be a religious symbol?

  4. Mariann says:

    I’m with you, Ted — why didn’t the Park Service simply allow a Buddhist symbol, and/or some more inclusive monument, to be added? The cross is a Christian symbol as certainly as the Star of David represents Judaism.

    Haven’t we already been through MANY similar “controversies” regarding the use of religious symbols OTHER THAN THE CROSS on the graves of Veterans in Veterans’ cemeteries? Even the athiests have recognized symbols that are now allowed.

    The history Happy sent along is neat — I know 29Palms is gorgeous — would it be any less gorgeous with a Buddhist symbol somewhere, or the symbols of other faiths?

  5. I think it would be a great idea to put up all the symbols of various religions; as remote as these roads are and the distances between gas stations (or anything) means you’d better have a full tank; don’t break down (as we did one year), and take plenty of water with you during the summer months.

    If they’d put up a string of those religious symbols as big as this one, you could use them as not only as a tribute but as ‘mile markers’ and landmarks to refer to when traveling or if someone gets lost, how to quickly find them.

    When we broke down, we were about 8 miles from the cross – we called the AAA and this helped them locate us more easily.

    Up near Nipton, NV, there is a small Buddhist monument that someone has placed near the road; it’s well kept and charming – no one fusses over that one.

    To me, because I put no meaning into any religious ‘symbol’, I see it only as an art piece.

    I have two Buddhist paintings in my home; several rosaries that were given to me as gifts from friends who are religious, and I cherish them only for the friendship and kindness in which they were given to me.

    I know there’s a huge cross that’s easily seen for miles, in Texas – it’s beautiful when it’s lit up at night, and if it’s on private land or public land, it doesn’t matter – I think it’s a lovely sight to see.

    I love the Statue of Liberty; I love all monuments that are created with beauty and purpose – so long as no one is trying to cram a religion down my throat, I’m just fine.

    But then again, that’s me…….

  6. Fed Up says:

    Well, I think that if some religions and their participants would stop behaving so badly then such symbols would not bother anyone. Unfortunately, some religious symbols can also be symbols of domination; they can even be symbols of intervention, even of invasion and occupation which is mass slaughter. They can be symbols of genocide, even, to some people. This is very, very sad when you consider that Christianity and Islam brought fuedalism and established it to people who were chattel slaves at the time.

    On this particular situation, I think it is more devisive than helpful to go there now.

  7. The fact that many people don’t consciously think of the cross as a religious symbol — who believe, as Happy does, that “it has nothing to do with religion” — shows just how far we have gone, in contradiction to the Constitution, in establishing a specific religion in this country.

    The cross is precisely and blatently a symbol of religion — it depicts the crucifixion of Christ, plain and simple. And what message does this send, however subtly, to those millions who do not consider themselves Christians? Or to those of the Christian faith who believe that religious belief is a personal and private matter — not the business of the State — and who respect those who choose to express their spirituality in a different fashion.

    And to those as well — whose beliefs are also protected by the Constitution — who do not turn to religion as a way of answering the mysteries of the universe.

    We lose our freedoms in subtle and subversive ways.

    Thorne

  8. I liked Thorne’s words:

    who do not turn to religion as a way of answering the mysteries of the universe.

    Fedup also makes some very valid points in his/her post.

    I guess when I think of symbols, I realize that even letters – written singularly, or used to form words, are symbols.

    I recently read the book of the origin of the alphabet; each letter comes from a symbol – a drawing; a picture of a man – a picture of a sheaf of corn, etc.

    Our flags of the world are symbols; the dog-tags the military wear act as identification but also are symbols.

    Even early man made his mark on the stones; we often visit the near-by mountains to check out the petroglyphs and try to imagine what they were trying to tell each other – what they wanted to remain as their history.

    There are even variations of how the early crosses were constructed; some didn’t have a place for the head to rest, so it was shaped more like a capital “T”. Some had no rest for the feet; some did when they wanted to provide a bit of relief for the person who was put upon it. Some were only tied; some were both nailed and tied – when I read about those early forms of crucifying a person, it seems that both the person was put up on display for the rest of the people to see, and not only did the cross act as a ‘tree’, but both the body and the cross were symbols to those people that if they went afoul of the law at the time, this is how they might die.

    For me, the cross represents a form of ‘killing’ just like the noose hanging from a tree or a guillotine.

    No doubt it was much harder to create an actual image of Jesus to symbolize his life and death; to give tribute to the religion that ultimately was formed, than it was to form a simple cross because fabrication of this was much less expensive and easier.

    I think of the rod of Moses; I think of the star that appeared when Jesus was born – these too, could easily be crafted into religious symbols.

    I think of Helen Keller; how free from symbols she was – how free she was from hearing hateful sounds, but how sad she never heard beautiful music or the birds singing. Her life was one of ‘touch and smell’ – I hope she lived where the Lilacs were in abundance.

  9. Fed Up says:

    I would like to pause here and go to some roots of this issue.

    I must admit, I am continually astounded by Birther-Palin-Evangelical types who claim they are anti-government, because the intention of the bourgeois revolutionaries who founded America when they created the Establishment Clause of the Constitution was to take God out of government, to insure, basically, that no government official could EVER AGAIN claim s/he had the approval of God to do anything!

    Afterall, they had recently endured the Inquisition, among other things; they had endured the torture of Copernicus and Galileo (who simply told the truth) because their scientific conclusions were inconvenient to the existing power, which was the Catholic Church.

    So in essence, this is not about one religion or another, its not about one’s sensitivities or any of that; its about keeping God out of government! We the people ought NEVER to allow anyone — George Bush or Barack Obama or ANYONE, from the Supreme Court of Alabama to the Administrator of National Parks — to cover and cloak what they do with religion!

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