Vets urge Supreme Court to protect memorials

On May 21, five veterans groups - representing more than 4 million veterans - conducted a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington to spotlight the controversial Mojave Desert Memorial, the fate of which is currently at stake in Salazar v. Buono. The high-profile case will be heard by the Supreme Court during its 2009-2010 term.

Mark Seavey, assistant director for the Legislative Division of The American Legion, spoke at the news conference. "The American Legion is gravely concerned with the fate of the Mohave Desert cross," he said. "If you don't think this is the first domino in a series, you're not paying attention. The cross is emblematic of sacrifice, not religion."

Veterans, attorneys and the memorial's current caretakers will share the story of the Mojave Desert Memorial and discuss the case's impact upon veterans memorials nationwide.

"This issue goes far beyond the fate of one simple cross," Seavey said. "And, despite statements by the ACLU, extends into the fate of the cross as gravestone in a federal cemetery."

The dispute arose when a former National Park Service employee sued for the removal of a 7-foot-tall cross erected in the Mojave Desert in 1934 as a war memorial to honor our fallen troops. Following attempts by Congress to designate the cross as a national memorial, and to transfer the land to Veterans of Foreign Wars, both the District Court and Ninth Circuit Court ruled that the cross is unconstitutional and must be removed. The memorial is currently covered with a plywood box awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Liberty Legal Institute, an organization that defends religious freedom and First Amendment rights, filed an amicus brief in November 2008 on behalf of the veterans groups.