U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument Over Memorial Cross in the Mojave Desert

Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme court will hear oral argument in Salazar v. Buono, an appeal challenging the ACLU’s lawsuit to remove an eight-foot metal cross erected in 1934.  The cross was erected on Sunrise Rock in California’s Mojave Desert by Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Thus far, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with the ACLU’s anti-cross efforts on the grounds the cross violates the so-called separation of church and state. As an affront to Christians, the cross is now covered by a wooden box to hide it from public view until the appeal is resolved.

When the Supreme Court considers the Mojave cross case on Wednesday, it will have in its file a compelling brief supporting the use of crosses in war memorials filed by the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (General - PDF LinksClick here to read brief.)  Joining the Law Center’s brief is the Individual Rights Foundation.

Richard Thompson, the President and Chief Counsel for the Law Center, commented, “The ACLU hates crosses as much as vampires hate crosses or the daylight.  Despite their claims to the contrary, this case is part of the ACLU’s national agenda to incrementally remove every cross on public land.  Their guiding principle is ‘out of sight out of mind.’  The Court’s ruling in this case will impact crosses in thousands of memorials nationwide.”

The military has a long tradition of using the cross to represent honor, courage, and sacrifice.  In fact, the Distinguished Service Cross is our nation’s second-highest military honor.  It was first awarded nearly a century ago during World War I and honors service men and women of all faiths who demonstrate extraordinary valor.

For many years, the Thomas More Law Center has been actively involved in the successful defense of the Mt. Soledad cross, which is part of a national war memorial located in San Diego, California, against ACLU attacks.  The Ninth Circuit is currently considering the ACLU’s appeal of a lower court’s favorable ruling in that case.  A decision by the Supreme Court in the Mojave cross case will likely affect the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial as well.

The Law Center’s brief was filed on behalf of former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, USN (Ret.), and the families of Marine Majors Michael D. Martino and Gerald Bloomfield, III, both of whom were killed in combat in Iraq on November 2, 2005, when their attack helicopter was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.  The memories and sacrifices of these war heroes are now preserved by plaques located under the cross at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial.

Jeremiah Denton, a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, a prisoner of war from July 18, 1965 to February 13, 1973, and a former U.S. Senator from the State of Alabama, also serves as the Chairman of the Thomas More Law Center’s Advisory Board.  Admiral Denton first came to the attention of the American public during a television interview arranged by his North Vietnamese captors in 1966.  Expected to give “proper responses” to a journalist’s recitation of alleged American war atrocities, Admiral Denton affirmed his faith in America, stating, “I will support it as long as I live.”  While responding to questions from his interrogator, Admiral Denton blinked his eyes in Morse Code, repeatedly spelling out the covert message “TORTURE.”  His message was the first confirmation that American POWs were being tortured.

During his nearly eight years as a POW, Admiral Denton was subjected to severe torture.  He became the first American military captive to be subjected to four years of solitary confinement.  Admiral Denton’s extraordinary account of his endurance and sacrifice for our country while imprisoned in North Vietnam was told in his 1976 book, When Hell Was in Session.

In 2008, Admiral Denton’s incredible sacrifice for our country – a horrific sacrifice that is unimaginable to most Americans – was honored and memorialized at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial.  A plaque in his honor was placed under the cross at the veterans’ memorial during a ceremony held on September 19, 2008, the 2008 National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

Previously, in May 2006, Major Martino and Major Bloomfield’s unit, which had recently returned from Iraq, sponsored a plaque-dedication ceremony at the memorial to commemorate the fallen Marines’ heroic service and to provide a place to honor them.  More than three hundred Marines stood in line in the hot sun for over three hours to meet the Marines’ families and to pay respect for their fallen comrades.

These ceremonies reveal the importance of such memorials, which provide a lasting tribute to our service men and women.  They provide places where family members, friends, and comrades of our war veterans can pay tribute to their heroes’ sacrifices.  Consequently, these memorials, including the crosses, convey an unmistakably American message of patriotism and self-sacrifice; they do not “establish” Christianity as a national religion, as the ACLU and others who are hostile to religion contend.

Robert Muise, the Thomas More Law Center attorney who authored the brief, is a former Marine officer himself.  Said Muise, “Our brief demonstrates that removing crosses from veterans’ memorials will cause real, irreparable harm to our war heroes and their grieving families, as compared with the contrived ‘harm’ the ACLU and others who are hostile to religion will ‘feel’ because the memorial crosses remain.  Indeed, those that are hostile to our religious heritage are creating the very sort of religiously-based divisiveness that our Constitution was designed to prohibit.”

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