Constitutional Clash Over Defunct Land Exchange

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Luke Eshleman [PEER] (202) 265-7337; Chris Krupp [Western Lands Project] (206) 325-3503

Constitutional Clash Over Defunct Land Exchange

Major Religious Establishment Case Rooted in Moot Mojave Cross Deal

WASHINGTON - In a potentially far-reaching Establishment Clause
case, the U.S. Supreme Court will examine a congressionally-mandated one-acre
land exchange to an entity that no longer exists in order to maintain a large
cross in the middle of a national park. The case, Buono v Salazar, illustrates
that abusive federal land exchange practices may yield even worse constitutional
law, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
and the Western Lands Project.

The nearly eight-year case involves attempts by the Bush administration to
prevent court-ordered removal of an-eight foot cross from the Mojave National
Preserve. In 2003, after losing an appeal of a court-ordered removal of the
cross, the Bush administration supported a rider by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA),
tacked onto the Defense appropriations bill, to trade the one federal acre
with the Mojave Cross into private hands. The private party named by the rider
is the Barstow chapter of the "Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post #385E".
But that VFW Post's charter was revoked in May 2007 and declared "defunct" by
the organization.

Nonetheless, the Bush Justice Department persisted in bringing the issue to
the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the case for its fall docket. The Justice
Department is seeking to reverse U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Court rulings that the land exchange was "a sham" and a transparent "attempt
by the government to evade the permanent injunction enjoining the display of
the Latin cross" on federal land.

"This land exchange is both bad policy and bad law," stated Chris
Krupp, staff attorney for the Western Lands Project, which monitors federal
land trades and other public land practices. "We would hope the Obama
administration takes a step back to see whether the public interest is served
by pursuing this case."

The Mojave Cross is but one of a series of instances in which the Bush administration
supported displays of Christian symbols (such as bronze plaques of Bible verses)
or materials (for example, a creationist book claiming that the Grand Canyon
was the product of Noah's Flood 6,000 years ago) inside national parks.

"Not another penny of taxpayer money should be spent pursuing former
Attorney General John Ashcroft's fundamentalist agenda," said PEER
Executive Jeff Ruch, whose organization calls these Bush-backed religious efforts "Faith-Based
Parks". "The underlying land exchange is a nullity and should not
be the basis for this Supreme Court tipping the scales on separation of church
and state."

Since a federal district court first ordered the removal of the Mojave Cross
back in 2002, the cross has been covered by a shroud. In the ensuing years,
the removal has been upheld in an unbroken string of decisions and appeals.

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Read the ACLU brief outlining the mootness of the exchange (pages 30-34)

Look at the text of the Rep. Lewis Mojave Cross rider

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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