Liberty Institute attorney Hiram Sasser. Sandy Huffaker

Legion made impact on Mojave cross case

On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, for now, a Latin cross honoring World War I veterans in the Mojave Desert does not need to be removed or concealed from public view. Attempts to remove the monument, erected in 1934, were led by the American Civil Liberties Union and resulted in a box being placed over the cross, but the Supreme Court said the cross could stay standing and remanded the case to the U.S. District Court to give it a chance to see if any other legal alternatives exist. However, the High Court reminded the District Court that: "Respect for a coordinate branch of Government forbids striking down an Act of Congress except upon a clear showing of unconstitutionality."

The American Legion filed friend-of-the-court briefs as the Mojave Cross case moved through the legal system. Liberty Institute - a nonprofit organization that works to educate, advocate, and, when necessary, litigate for freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution such as freedom of speech and religious freedom - has filed briefs on behalf of the Legion and other organizations in the Mojave Desert Cross case and similar cases across the country.

Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for Liberty Institute, spoke with The American Legion about the Supreme Court's ruling and what the future holds for the case.

Q: How important was the amicus brief (friend-of-the-court brief) in the way the Court ruled?

A: The brief that we filed, that The American Legion filed, was cited no less than 12 times throughout all the opinions collectively. As a friend-of-the-court brief, that's unheard of. Usually a brief is being shown a lot of respect when it's cited maybe once. That's a big deal. This thing was cited at least a dozen times and relied upon. It was obviously very influential - it was the most influential brief outside of the briefs of both parties in the case, judging by how much it was used throughout the opinion. I think it had a huge impact on the case. Had the Legion and the veterans groups not stood together ... this case may very have gone the other way.

Q: What is The American Legion's role in the process now that the Supreme Court has ruled the way it has?

A: The most important thing now is that veterans groups, including The American Legion, continue on being involved in this case until the box comes off (the cross). You can say the Mojave Desert now is sort of the Battle of Midway. Everything was sort of going against us. We have a decisive, strategic victory turnaround. A major battle was won, which is fantastic, but the war continues. We have all the momentum now, but we have to continue to press, we have to continue to fight, we have to continue to do everything that's necessary to present all the best arguments to make sure that eventually this memorial can stand and honor the veterans it was intended to honor.

Q: The next step is going back to District Court, correct?

A: It's going back to the original District Court with a very strong suggestion to find the land transfer constitutional and to dismiss this case.

Q: What is this ruling going to do for the cases like the Boys Scouts using Balboa Park and the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial?

A: Because there were only two justices who adopted our standing argument - saying that Frank Buono in the Mojave case does not have standing to bring the case - it didn't have enough votes to do anything with, so the Supreme Court denied review, and it's going to go back down to the District Court, and they're going to have to proceed with the case.

With the Soledad case, standing, I don't think, was ever the main argument. When it comes to the merits of the case, the Mojave case, that should be a strong indication to the Ninth Circuit (Court) to uphold this veterans memorial in San Diego and to dismiss that case. But they may not. They may not follow the direction of the Supreme Court, and the Mt. Soledad case may go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And the Mojave case may make its way all the way back to the Supreme Court again ... if the District Court doesn't follow the advice (of the Supreme Court). They should, but that doesn't mean they will.

Q: What was it like making that phone call to (Mojave cross caretaker) Henry Sandoz and his wife after the ruling?

A: It was bittersweet. It was sweet in the sense of being able to tell them we won and that ultimately the box is coming off. The only downer for them was that I had to tell them it wasn't coming off any time soon, and I can't tell them when it will come off. It might take months or years, but it will come off.




  1. When are you and others going to get this story straight. The ACLU joined the case as an amicus curae. The case against the cross was initiated by the Jewish War Vets. JWV Files Complaint to Remove Mt. Soledad Cross from Federally-owned Property The ACLU joined the case later. But, it was JWV who filed the original suit.
  2. Not being a very religous person myself,I think that all of this bickering is nonsense about the Cross is unused energy that should be directed at more important objectives that we are facing. Ladies and Gentlemen,we served to protect the right for religous freedoms among other things. As Veterans we need to remember to keep that focus so that the Brothers after us will do the same for us. P.S. Has any other group desired to install a memmento in the Mojave?
  3. Lets honor Soldiers and their sacrifice...not a specific religion. Many of the fallen and their families were honored by the cross but what if one or more were not! The memorial MUST be ambiguous to religion or you risk offending individuals and their families who have served our country honorably. The large percentage of the non-christian or non-religious population gets tired of being force feed the one point of view.
  4. Unfortunately, this is all old news. The day after the Supreme Court said it was alright to show the cross, somebody cut it down and took it. When a new one was set up to replace it, a Park Service administrator ordered it removed, because it wasn't the same exact cross that the Supreme Court had approved. Isn't it wonderful to see our tax dollars being used so wisely. I have a suggestion to help balance the budget, fire a couple of Park Service employees. Pete Loeser Vietnam Veteran
  5. Creationism taught in school. Evolution NOT being taught in school. Fighting the Constitutional right to privacy that allows a woman to choose to have an abortion or not. Rewriting history books to pander to a more "Christian" history. Thwarting civil rights for homosexuals. Thwarting stem cell research that could benefit disabled vets. The list of Christian Hate this organization is involved with goes on and on and the National American Legion is happy and proud to partner with such filth? What happened to the American Legion not being partisan? What happened to the American Legion standing up for the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION??? It's a shame my dues helped pay for this. SHAMEFUL!
  6. THAT is part of the Constitution, as well. "But it wasn't about religion!" PROVE IT THEN. Replace the cross with a statue of Buddha. Or a Star of David. Or a Crescent Moon. Or a statue of a horned-goat/man inside of a pentagram. Funny how you'll yammer that THOSE are religious symbols but a cross somehow isn't...
  7. Seperation of Church & State is not part of the Constitution. Nowhere within the Constitution does it state that Church & State must be separated. However, it does say that the government should not interfere with the free expression of religion, which I believe all this removal of religious symbols amounts to. And replacement of a 1934 cross with some other religious symbol would also be interferenece and/or astablishment of a government sponsored religion.
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