Court should not cross this line

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Salazar v. Buono, a case that the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in 2001 on behalf of an Oregon man, Frank Buono, to remove an 8-foot cross from federal property in the Mojave Desert.

The cross has stood as a World War I memorial since 1934, when it was erected by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Over the years the cross has been visited by religious people, who have held Easter services at the site.

Because of that, the ACLU insists the cross should be torn down because, it argues, the cross violates the Establishment

Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from establishing or overtly supporting any particular religion.

The “Mojave Desert Cross Case,” as it has come to be known, has wound its way through lower courts, which have disallowed a deal that would have granted the land in question, which belongs to the National Parks Service, to the VFW in exchange for an equivalent piece of property. Congress took action in 2004 to facilitate that land transfer, but the courts have nixed it.

The ACLU is going to extremes in this case. Though crosses certainly have religious significance in our American culture, they also are commonly used as memorials.

The existence of this cross not only resonates with values that have long been a legitimate part of our history, but does not coerce anyone to participate in a religious exercise by its existence. It is essentially two boards fastened together a 90-degree angles, planted in the desert soil as a monument to those who have died in war. They are not there for purposes of worship.

If the existence of these two boards, fastened together in such a manner, do not force anyone to participate in a religious exercise, they don’t violate the Establishment Clause and the Court should send this case to where it belonged in the first place €“ the trash can.

Frankly, we wonder why Buono was permitted to pursue this case at all since, though he is a former Parks Service employee who once worked at the preserve where the cross stands, he lives a thousand miles away from this cross, (which is covered with sheets of plywood per a 2002 court ruling). How, realistically, could he have been injured or coerced in any way by the presence of the monument?

The Supreme Court’s activities often provide material of great interest for those with their finger in the wind, as the justices can, with a stroke of a pen, make fundamental changes to the way we live.

The Court generally adheres to the legal principle of stare decisis €“ Latin for “let the decision stand.” Stare decisis means that judges should look to the past and follow previous court decisions €“ or precedents.

Adherence to this principle, of course, deters the agendas of so-called “activist judges,” who make it their business to use their positions to break new legal ground and to effectively create new law.

However, part of the role of an appeals court justice is to reverse bad law, whether it is created by legislation or by lower courts. The lower court rulings in this case are shortsighted and are bad law.

Clearly, the issue here is much more than the existence of a solitary cross out in the desert.

If the existence of that cross violates the Constitution, then grieving families should remove roadside crosses on public property that mark spots where their loved ones have died. And how about those grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery? Do they promote religion?

We hope the Supreme Court takes a very measured, clear-headed approach to this question and considers the enormity of the misguided, sweeping action that the ACLU and Buono are calling for.

This symbol is simply intended to memorialize thousands of lives given up for the sole purpose of maintaining the right of that cross to stand where it has for 75 years.

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