Supreme Court Sends Mojave Desert Cross Case Back to Lower Court

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Robyn Shepherd, ACLU National, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Gordon Smith, ACLU of Southern California, (213) 977-5252; gsmith@aclu-sc.org

Supreme Court Sends Mojave Desert Cross Case Back to Lower Court

ACLU to Continue to Argue That Land Transfer to Private Veterans Group Does Not Remedy Establishment Clause Violation

WASHINGTON - In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today
remanded a case concerning a Latin cross in the Mojave National
Preserve back to the district court, saying that the lower court used
the wrong legal standard in deciding to invalidate a transfer of the
land on which the cross sits to private ownership. The American Civil
Liberties Union will continue to argue that the cross, as it currently
stands, does not remedy the government's unconstitutional endorsement of
one particular religion.

The case, Salazar v. Buono, stems from a complaint raised by Frank
Buono, a veteran and former assistant superintendent of the Mojave
National Preserve, who claimed that the designation of an overtly
religious symbol as a national war memorial was offensive and violated
the separation of church and state. The Court ruled that the lower court
did not take into account the historical context of the cross, which
was erected in 1934 by veterans of World War I and has been replaced
several times since then. The most recent cross was built and looked
after by private citizens. Congress designated the cross as a national
memorial, one of only 49 such memorials around the country, in 2002.

The following can
be attributed to Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney and Manheim Family
Attorney for First Amendment Rights for the ACLU of Southern California,
who argued the case before the Supreme Court in October:

"Although we're disappointed by
today's decision, we're encouraged that the case is not over. We will
continue to argue that the land transfer did not remedy the violation of
the Establishment Clause.

"The cross is unquestionably a
sectarian symbol, and it is wrong for the government to make such a
deliberate effort to maintain it as a national memorial.

"It's worth noting that seven members
of the Court rejected the government's argument that Frank Buono had no
right to challenge the land transfer. In addition, the scope of the
decision is narrowed by language that ties it to the history of this
particular cross and Congress's response to it."

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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