June 2012 Church & State | People & Events


A long-running legal battle over a cross on federal land in California came to an end recently when a settlement was reached.

The fight over the cross in the Mojave National Preserve ended with an agreement for a land swap. The National Park Service will transfer Sunrise Rock and the property around it to a Veterans of Foreign Wars branch and in return will receive five acres of donated property elsewhere, reported the Associated Press.

Crosses of various sizes and materials have been displayed at the site on and off since 1934. In 1994, the land became part of the Preserve, a large park owned by the federal government. In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union, representing a Rom­an Catholic park employee who objected to the display, sued over the matter.

Congress agreed to the land swap in 2003, but the ACLU argued that the arrangement was just a dodge to keep the cross in place. The matter reached the Supreme Court, which did not rule on the legality of the cross’ placement on government property and sent the case to a lower court for more deliberations.

In the ruling in Salazar v. Buono, however, Justice Anthony M. Ken­nedy implied that crosses need not be religious symbols. They invoke, he said, “the graves of Americans who fell in battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”

The last cross to be displayed in the area, which was made of metal pipes, was stolen after the high court ruled. Under the terms of the settlement, the veterans group will be permitted to erect a new cross at the site. The area will be fenced off, and a sign will be erected to indicate that the area is privately owned.

The land swap is supposed to be completed by the end of the year.

“We want to wrap this, we want to get it done,” Linda Slater of the Mojave National Preserve, said. “No cross can go up until the exchange is complete.”