Sharp Debate at High Court over Mojave Cross

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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard the case of an eight-foot wooden cross erected decades ago to honor military veterans. The high court's ruling could affect religious displays across the country.
    
The cross in question has stood on government property in the Mojave Desert for 75 years.

Agreeing to Disagree

As the principals in this case poured down the Supreme Court steps and addressed the media, there was only one thing on which they could agree. They disagree on even the most basic principles when it comes to this case. 

One side argued that the cross couldn't stand for all American veterans.

"My father is a Jewish war veteran.  My grandfather was a Jewish war veteran in World War I.  And to say that a cross represents the sacrifice of the 250,000 Jews who fought for this country in World War I is simply not true," ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said. 

Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State concurred.

"The cross in the Mojave Reserve has no historic significance.  It has no secular significance," he said. "It is a powerful symbol of the predominant religion in this country and as such, it has no business being in the Mojave Reserve." 

One veteran said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to embrace one novel solution.

"Tear down the cross, transfer the land from government ownership to private ownership, and then re-erect the cross," said Craig Roberts of the American Legion.

But the other side argued that indeed the cross is perfectly reasonable as a symbol for all veterans.

"This was not put up by the government.  It was put up by veterans. This is the symbol they chose," argued Kelly Shakelford of the Liberty Legal Institute.   

During the high court's session, the justices seemed leery of tackling the really big issues such as separation of church and state and whether the man who brought the suit even had standing to do so.

Instead, most of it revolved around procedural matters. Still, a decision could be handed down with significant implications.

Shackelford said, "If you have tear down a cross in the middle of 1.6 million acres of desert, then what do you do with the 24-foot-tall cross of sacrifice in the Arlington Memorial Cemetery that's seen by millions of people everyday?"

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice agreed.

"The danger in this case is the precedent it could set," he said. "At the end of the day, to have a constitutional crisis over an eight-foot cross in the Mojave Desert sets up a really dangerous precedent."

Sekulow said he was also "particularly fascinated by Justice Sotomayor's questioning which was hard on both sides." 

"Which means she may not be so easy to read as people thought," he added.

Henry and Wanda Sandoz have been taking care of the cross for 25 years.

"If they can take this one down, what's to stop them from taking any one that they want down?," Wanda asked.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.