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Supreme Court Rules Mojave Cross Memorial May Stay

By Jason Beahm on April 29, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Salazar v. Buono, that a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge in California was incorrect in ordering the removal of a cross memorial from a park in the Mojave desert. The judge had ruled that the war memorial cross violated the ban on government endorsement of religion. The Supreme Court overturned that decision, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority: 

In 1934, private citizens placed a Latin cross on a rock honor American soldiers who fell in World War I....It is on federal land.

The Court is asked to consider a challenge, not to the first placement of the cross or its continued presence on federal land, but to a statute that would transfer the cross and the land on which it stands to a private party. The District Court permanently enjoined the Government from implementing the statute. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We conclude that its judgment was in error.

As is typically the case, the opinion does little to clear up questions of constitutionality in future cases. James Vicini writes today for Reuters that the High Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the Mojave cross itself. 

Justice John Paul Stevens, who will be retiring at the end of this term, wrote in his dissent that the transfer of ownership did not reverse the initial constitutional violation that the cross memorial conveyed a message of government endorsement of religion.

Justice Department attorneys have said the government would be willing to put up signs making clear the property no longer was owned by the government.

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