The U.S. Supreme Court should use a new controversy over a cross on park land in California to make it clear that government has no right to display religious symbols, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The court today announced it will hear Salazar v. Buono, a legal battle centering on the display of a cross at the Mojave National Preserve in California. The cross was originally erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1934 and has since been replaced several times by private citizens.
“This cross is in the middle of a national park, and anyone looking at it would assume it was erected by the government,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The federal parks belong to all Americans and are not the appropriate place for the display of religious symbols.”
In 2003, Congress approved a rider to a Defense Department bill declaring the cross a “national memorial” and mandating a land exchange that would transfer the cross and the property beneath it to private hands. Lynn called this an obvious ploy designed to keep the cross on federal land.
He noted that a request by another citizen to display a Buddhist symbol in the area was denied. This, Lynn said, is proof of unconstitutional government favoritism toward one religion.
Lynn also disputed claims that the cross is a war memorial.
“Men and women of many faiths and none have served our country honorably and died to preserve our rights,” Lynn said. “A Christian symbol cannot memorialize them all.”
The Supreme Court will also use the case to examine issues of “standing” – the right to sue. Lynn said he hopes the court makes it clear that individuals who oppose government display of religious symbols have the right to challenge them in court.
Read the Opposing Views Debate, "Should Religious Symbols be Displayed in Public?"
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