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Mojave cross theft shows planning; veterans groups vow to rebuild

The Mojave cross, which the US Supreme Court two weeks ago ruled could stay, was removed early this week, sparking outrage.

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The eight-foot-high cross had been perched on a wind-swept rock jutting 30 feet above the Mojave National Preserve 76 years ago by a group of World War 1 veterans. Situated in a wide expanse of arid desert, the cross was about 20 feet off a two-lane highway where perhaps 20 cars pass a day.

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It later sparked a First Amendment court battle when the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the National Park Service in March, 2001, saying the cross violated the First Amendment because it was a “religious fixture” on federal land. A federal judge at first agreed, crushing local veterans who claimed that the cross was a historic monument, not an ecclesiastical object. The judge had ruled that the US Supreme Court’s interpretation of the US Constitution’s “establishment clause” meant “the government may not promote or affiliate itself with any religious doctrine or organization.”

When he first saw photos of the vandalized cross site, Mr. Davis says he was “in shock and disbelief…. How could anyone have the audacity to tear down a war memorial to the dead?”

The $25,000 reward is now being offered through the Liberty Institute, which represented the VFW, American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and American Ex-Prisoners of War in an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case of Salazar v. Buono.

Davis says that the original constructors meant no disrespect to other religions – the cross was used not out of religious necessity, he says, but out of respect to the 53,000 US veterans who died over 18 months of fighting in WWI.

“Three of the highest medals in our armed forces use the cross – the distinguished service cross, the Air Force cross, and the Navy cross – and no one has ever returned one of those,” says Davis. “This memorial meant a lot to those veterans and we cannot apply 21st century rules of political correctness to their world in 1934.”

The National Park Service is now investigating the case.