Religion in Society

Bad Decision: Supreme Court Allows Cross in Public Mojave Desert

| by AUSCS

Today’s Supreme Court decision in a California cross case is alarming, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“I’m very disappointed,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The court majority was clearly determined to find any bogus reason to keep this religious symbol in a public park.”

Added Lynn, “It’s alarming that the high court continues to undermine the separation of church and state. Nothing good can come from this trend.”

Lynn said the ruling in Salazar v. Buono will likely encourage further assaults on the church-state wall. “This decision lets Congress bypass the Constitution and devise a convoluted scheme to keep a cross on display in a federal park,” Lynn remarked. “That’s bad law and bad public policy.

“The court majority seems to think the cross is not always a Christian symbol,” Lynn continued. “I think all Americans know better than that.”

The high court ruled 5-4 that Congress could can transfer public land to a private group in order to keep a cross on display in the Mojave National Preserve in California. Federal courts had ruled that display of the Christian symbol on public land violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

In response, Congress declared the cross a “national memorial” and, in 2003, approved a rider to a Defense Department bill mandating a land exchange that would transfer the cross and the property beneath it to private hands.

Critics said the move was an obvious ploy to circumvent the courts’ decisions and keep the cross on display.

“The cross is a Christian religious symbol,” said AU’s Lynn, “not a war memorial that honors all veterans. Our veterans come from different faiths, and some follow no spiritual path at all.”

Lynn noted that a request by another citizen to display a Buddhist symbol in the Mojave Preserve was denied. This, Lynn said, is evidence of unconstitutional government favoritism toward one religion.

Americans United, in a friend-of-the-court brief, asserted that government may not send a message that some religions are preferred over others.