Veterans groups say the Mojave cross was no different from other war memorials with religious imagery. Opponents of the Supreme Court decision vow to fight on.
Supporters of an eight-foot-tall cross on a hilltop in the Mojave Desert are hailing a US Supreme Court decision to overturn a lower court order that the cross must be removed from federal land because it violated the separation of church and state.
The high court on Wednesday in a 5-to-4 decision instructed the district court to reexamine the issue, including a land-swap authorized by Congress that would convert the land around and under the cross to private property.
The federal judge had earlier rejected that possible legislative solution as an illicit attempt to evade a court order.
“We applaud the Supreme Court for overruling the decisions below, but this battle is not over,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Counsel, an advocacy group that is representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other military service organizations seeking to keep the cross in its present location.
The cross was erected in 1934 on federal land in the Mojave National Preserve. It was built and maintained by private veterans groups as a memorial to fallen service members in World War I.
After a legal challenge, a federal judge ruled that a cross on public land violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government endorsement of religion. He ordered the cross removed. An appeals court agreed.