Mojave cross debate reaches Supreme Court

AZUSA, Calif. A legal battle over a cross standing in the Mojave Desert has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where arguments were heard Wednesday.

The government recognizes a conflict. The question here is the remedy. Civil libertarians say that congress pulled a fast one to skirt the Constitution.

It has stood for 75 years, right where a World War I veteran planted it in 1934 on federal land: an iron cross memorial faces the vast the Mojave Desert.

Its right to exist has been argued from the Supreme Court to the VFW hall in Azusa.

"I don't think he meant to hurt anybody's feelings, he was just honoring comrades the best way that he knew," said John Moreno at VFW Post 8070.

"In this country we honor our war heroes under one flag, but not under one religious symbol," said Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The challenge began when the Park Service denied a Buddhist group from erecting its own shrine. A park ranger thought it wasn't fair and sued. Congress responded by swapping the hilltop for other land and handing the memorial to the VFW.

The ACLU calls that deal a sham.

"That effectively treated the constitution as swampland," said Rosenbaum.

The vets argue that during World War I the cross was a generic image, a sign for sacrifice.

"What are you going to put up there? A cross is a symbol all over the world. A cross should not be taken out of there," said Mike Casteneda at the VFW post.

Or should it?

"That would dramatically say to Buddhist war veterans, atheist war veterans, Muslim war veterans, that our only way of honoring you would be with a Christian cross," said Rosenbaum.

"It is amazing. I can't believe people are trying to take this away from us," said Jim Rose at the VFW post.

Supreme Court justices asked questions during arguments Wednesday. It appears that liberals and conservatives are equally divided.

It may be next June before there is a decision.

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