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Supreme Court Rules: A Light Set on a Hill Cannot Be Hidden

By Alan Sears posted on:
October 17, 2017

It’s time to take the box off the Mojave cross.

The cross, erected on a remote hill on government-owned land in the California desert in 1934 as a tribute to America’s veterans, has been under fire since 2001 from the ACLU and other groups determined to silence its symbolism.

When a lone individual alleged that the cross – which he had to drive a vast distance to the middle of nowhere even to see – offended him, the ACLU sued on his behalf to have it removed, citing “separation of church and state.” At the urging of veterans’ groups, Congress authorized the transfer of the one acre of land under the cross to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 2004, in exchange for five acres of other land.

Still offended, the ACLU argued that the land transfer was unconstitutional, and both a district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed, ordering that a box be placed over the cross while the case was on appeal.

ADF provided funding for a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the National Legal Foundation in its appeal of the case, Salazar v. Buono, to the 9th Circuit, and continued that support when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the case and heard oral arguments last October. ADF also joined Advocates for Faith and Freedom and the American Legion Department of California in filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the court. Finally, last month, in a 5–4 decision, the high court reversed the ruling that said Congress could not transfer that acre beneath the cross to the VFW. So the cross can stay – and hopefully soon the box can come off as well.

“The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion.  Then, in a clear reference to another ADF case now pending, American Atheists v. Duncan (in which a secular group is suing to have roadside crosses honoring fallen Utah state troopers removed), Kennedy wrote:

“A cross by the side of a public highway marking, for instance, the place where a state trooper perished need not be taken as a statement of governmental support for sectarian beliefs.  The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.”

“A passive monument acknowledging our nation’s religious heritage cannot be interpreted as an establishment of religion,” says ADF Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco. “To make that accusation, one must harbor both hostility to the nation’s history and a deep misunderstanding of the First Amendment.”

Please join me in giving thanks to God for this – the 37th victory before the Supreme Court God has allowed ADF to play a role in. It’s a crucial victory for the Defense of Veterans’ Memorials Project, spearheaded by ADF, and for our friends and allies at the American Legion Department of California, and Liberty Legal Institute, working to defend America’s veterans’ memorials from attack in the courts.

Alan Sears

Alan Sears


Alan Sears served as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.

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