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Supreme Court takes up case of cross on federal land

A white cross has stood in the Mojave National Preserve since 1934. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will look at issues related to the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

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It is well known that you can't put a cross up on government property. Such a religious symbol on federal land would suggest an endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment's mandated separation of church and state.

But what happens when the cross in question has been on the same remote hilltop in a federal preserve in the Mojave Desert since 1934?

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court takes up a case involving not just a cross in the desert, but a host of thorny issues that could significantly change the national debate over religious symbols and monuments erected on government property.

Among key questions is whether ordinary citizens have legal standing to police potential government violations of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

The justices are also expected to examine whether federal judges overstepped their authority when they refused to acknowledge an act of Congress transferring the cross and its surrounding hilltop to a private landowner in a land swap.

The case, Salazar v. Buono, involves a nine-year tug of war over a five-foot-tall white cross erected atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in southeast California.

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