How offensive is this religious symbol?

Reply Mon 9 Aug, 2010 03:06 pm

I was fine with this until the last sentence where the ACLU is challenging the land swap. What's your take?

LOS ANGELES -- A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court decision that a large white cross sitting on federal land in the Mojave desert violates the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state and should be removed.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the National Park Service in 2001 on behalf of a retired park employee. A federal judge sided with the ACLU and ordered the cross, in the Mojave National Preserve near the California-Nevada border, be taken down.

The Department of Justice appealed the lower court's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Rather than remove the cross, the Park Service threw a large tarp over the structure while the case was in court.

Monday's opinion did not specify whether the cross should be removed immediately or could remain covered if the case is appealed to the Supreme Court.

"The [9th Circuit] said this case is really quite simple. Using a sectarian religious symbol is not permissible on federal land," Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said. "Sometimes you just have to hit them over the head three, four or five times."

A spokesman for the Justice Department said attorneys are reviewing the ruling to determine whether to appeal.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars erected a cross in 1934 in memory of those who fought and died in World War I. A plaque explaining the cross's purpose was placed at the foot of the structure, but the sign disappeared long ago.

After being nearly destroyed several times, the cross -- originally two pieces of wood nailed together and planted in the desert -- has been changed several times. The latest version is made of two metal pipes welded together and painted white.

Officially designated as a war memorial by Congress, the cross has also been the site of Easter sunrise services over the years. In 1999, the National Park Service denied a request to build a Buddhist religious symbol near the cross.

Eliasberg scoffed at the government's argument that the site is a war memorial. "That doesn't honor Muslim veterans, Jewish veterans, atheist veterans or agnostic veterans," Eliasberg said. "It's a preeminent symbol of a religion. If we want to have a war memorial on federal land, the government certainly knows how to do that without using a divisive sectarian religious symbol."

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) crafted a plan to keep the cross in place by transferring the patch of land where the cross sits to the VFW in exchange for five acres of privately owned land elsewhere in the preserve. The legislation was approved earlier this year, but the transfer has not been completed.

Because the land transfer would put the cross on private, not public, land, the government argued that the issue of separation of church and state is moot, and urged the court not to rule in the case.

But Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote Monday's opinion, said the transfer could take years to complete and provisions in the legislation could allow the land to be transferred back to the government, putting the cross back on public land.

"This case is not yet moot and may not be for a significant time, as defendants conceded that the land transfer could take as long as two years to complete," Kozinski said in a 14-page opinion.

A spokesman for Lewis said the lawmaker would support an appeal to the Supreme Court, but he hopes the land transfer would make that unnecessary.

The ACLU has also challenged the constitutionality of the land swap.

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Reply Mon 9 Aug, 2010 06:43 pm
Don't really know, GiD, 'til I know what their take is on the land swap.
Reply Tue 10 Aug, 2010 09:59 am
Seems after the following happened the land swap was proposed and the ACLU is claiming that it is just an extension of the original affront and still violates the establishment clause of the first amendment. It seems that lawyers are actually trying to argue that its unfair other lawyers are trying to get around an issue on a technicality.

Two years ago, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the ACLU and declared the cross an "impermissible governmental endorsement of religion."

Reply Tue 10 Aug, 2010 11:35 am
Is it a common thing for federal land, park land, to be swapped? Why not just move the cross to private land? That seems to be a much easier solution.

The funny thing is that the people who do these things are often the very people who suggest that they are "for the Constitution and all it stands for".

"on behalf of a retired park employee"; how many years did this person "tolerate" the situation for fear of losing his/her job?
Reply Tue 10 Aug, 2010 12:37 pm
Personally I don't see the difference between the indoctrination power of a cross or that of a common nationalistic symbol. I just find the first amendment establishment issue interesting in that it is so interpretive, and everything ends up a long series of finding "loopholes" in something that begins with being a large loop
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Reply Tue 10 Aug, 2010 01:08 pm
This is old news. The supreme court already issued an opinion on this case during its recently completed term: Salazar v. Buono.
Reply Tue 10 Aug, 2010 01:22 pm
I'm habitually behind the times
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