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Judge Orders Cross Removed from Mojave National Preserve


A federal judge has ruled that this cross atop Sunrise Rock in Mojave National Preserve must be removed. NPS Photo.

Brace yourself, I'm about to delve into one of those public conversation taboos. You know, you don't talk sex, politics, or religion in public.

But at times I find the debates spurred by symbols fascinating. And, of course, religious symbols seem to spur the most debates. The one I want to focus on involves Mojave National Preserve, where a federal judge has ruled that a cross can no longer stand atop Sunrise Rock.

The cross, a simple unadorned one, dates to 1934, when a wooden one was raised in honor of Americans who died during World War I. It later was replaced by a more enduring metal cross. As you look at it, it seems like a simple tribute. And yet in 2001 Frank Buono, a former National Park Service assistant superintendent at the preserve, filed a lawsuit, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, to have the cross removed.

Court papers from an earlier stage in the case noted that Buono was "deeply offended by the display of a Latin Cross on government-owned property," reads a story from the San Bernardino Sun.

Look at the picture. Are you "deeply offended" by the cross?

In her ruling, Judge M. Margaret McKeown held that the cross's location within the national preserve is an unconstitutional federal endorsement of Christianity.

This case has me wondering if there's a point when a symbol, religious or otherwise, becomes more a part of our country's history, of our social fabric, our culture, than it does a symbol of what it was initially viewed as? Beyond that, will this ruling lead the Park Service to remove any and all symbols or structures located within its properties that can be construed as religious? Should it prohibit any and all religious services?

Why did the judge in this case rule against the federal government, and yet back in 2000 a court dismissed a lawsuit claiming the federal government was endorsing a Native American religion by restricting access to Rainbow Bridge at Rainbow Bridge National Monument?

Of course, in the Rainbow Bridge case the court held that the couple that brought the lawsuit had suffered no personal injury and so had no standing. But what personal injury did Mr. Buono suffer in the Mojave Preserve matter?

Look elsewhere in the park system. The Park Service earlier this year designated a synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a National Historic Landmark. Could someone argue that means the government endorses Judaism?

At Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming conflicts arise when Native Americans want to hold ceremonies at the tower and ask that climbing be restricted.

And then there's the Christian Ministry In the National Parks, which holds non-denominational services every Sunday during the summer in more than 35 national parks. By permitting these services, does the Park Service tacitly endorse religion in general?

As these cases reflect, there are no quick, clearcut answers to these questions. Judges seemingly have different standards when weighing the merits of the cases before them. Across the country, different segments of our population hold different values.

Where do you draw the line? How do you decide what should be allowed, and what should not? Should the parks be so aseptic of some segments of America's culture? How do you decide which symbols are offensive and which are not? If the cross in question were taken down and replaced by a monument, would that be OK?

Religion long has played a role in this country's evolution. The Founding Fathers were pious men, the explorers who opened up the West often talked of the majesty "He" created. Even John Muir referred to God in his writings about nature:

In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.
- John of the Mountains, (1938) page 317.

I've long viewed myself as a secularist, and certainly don't want to see crosses and other symbols, religious or otherwise, sprouting on hills and mountaintops across the park system. And yet, are there times when you wonder whether we go too far in striving to be politically correct?

Frankly, perhaps it would have been best if the judge in the Mojave case simply ruled that the cross did not belong in the preserve, regardless of whether it had any religious connotations.


If people want to look at a cross in the desert they can go buy some one acre paradise on their own and erect one.

Funny the same person who rants about the lack of a minority right to not be offended, majority rules, etc. become apoplectic when a majority wants something that he does not.

Read the First Amendment to the Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Although this ruling (and many others) is politically correct, it violates the direct wording of the First Amendment. If read properly in the historical context, it nullifies the British practice of the time of establishing a "State Religion". The later use to define a "separation" of church and state is traceable to Supreme Court decisions which may or may not agree with the amendment. It is, as has often been said, the passing of legislation by the Judicial branch of the government, instead of merely stating whether a law is or is not according to the Constitution. If the Congress were to pass a law mandating the placing of this cross in Mojave National Preserve, or passed a law prohibiting it, such law would properly be condemned as "unconstitutional." But since it is only an opinion by a court, we argue about its correctness. The complexity of legal decisions boggles the mind.


How many of the soldiers of WWI (I'm thinking primarily of Jews, though atheists and Muslims would also have been among the dead) had a faith that was not commemorated by this cross? I tire of having the phrase "politically correct" thrown up in our faces when we disagree with government-funded, -sponsored or -approved displays of religious observance. How often do those who wonder at people's "oversensitivity" put themselves in someone else's shoes? If the display involved a Star of David, a menorah or a large statue of a seated or standing Buddha would the reactions be the same?

Would the same people agree that these would be right and fitting displays of religious observance and tradition--albeit not their own tradition?

For those of you who say that there is a "bleeding-heart" mentality that attempts to balance the rights of a majority against a minority TOO fiercely, I invite you to revisit the US Constitution or the Federalist Papers. How many decisions were made and how many structural modifications were put in place to avoid a "tyranny of the majority"? The Founding Fathers struggled over these points, they did not dismiss them as being the purview of whiners or those lacking common sense. What would you think if you were part of a minority?

I welcome any of your comments on my blog,, as well.

Foolishness seems to be a quality greatly possessed by many who claim to understand.

To what end do we quarrel about these nonsensical things.

I'll be praying for you all.

In one way shape of form, there is ALWAYS someone who will take offense to something. People have issues wtih various commentary expressed on this website, in particular with some of the views expressed by your's truly. Thank you for investing some of your precious time reading and taking my opinions to heart. Truth be known, I could give a rat's *** whether you agree, disagree or are not swayed either way. But whether you personally approve of someone's viewpoint or not is really not the issue. In this alleged democracy within which we all freely express our disdain for various topics, we cannot allow for the agenda of a minority of the population to countermand the majority. Democracy, as defined in most political science textbooks, reads "one person, one vote, majority rule" (I quote loosely, but most likely you wouldn't read the whole definition if I copied it anyway) and we are dangerously close to the point whereby we fall into the abyss, and the PC among us are encourage anyone with "hurt feelings" to have the system perverted in their favor. If there are particular freedoms that we enjoy in this country, be they religious expression, speech, publication, political expression, art, or the like that are truly bothersome to a portion of the masses, then let me encourage you to utilize the boats, planes, and railcars that are ready daily to whisk you away to a place where "you can stare at the world from your own little Idaho" (apologies to Kurt and Sammy). But on the other hand, shame on ALL of us, ESPECIALLY the bleeding-hearts who constitute the ACLU who allow the whining immoral minority to become the national conscience.

Amen Brother Randy!

I am continually amazed at people who are "offended" by religious symbols or the beliefs of another person. No where in any documents of this country except the liberal media does it give you the right to not be offended. You're offended by something? So what? Live with it. How about if I say that religious symbols should be placed on everything because otherwise the government is endorsing atheism?

What is atheism but a belief system. No one knows 100% what is true and what is not. You just choose to believe there is nothing. Others choose to believe in something. Why should your belief take precedence over theirs?

Oh wait, let's trot out the argument that religion causes wars. Religion doesn't cause wars or persecution or anything else. People cause those. People that are either power hungry or offended. I've been around the world several times and I can assure you that 95% of the people in it want to live their life without anyone bothering them. The power hungry or offended people call them sheep and feel that because they don't care about "the cause" then they don't matter. Sometimes they manage to spin up the sheep and point them in a direction that causes damage and that sucks.

But it's not the fault of the sheeps belief system, it's the fault of the wolves.

If you dropped 100 atheists on an island full of easily obtained food and shelter pretty soon you'd have at least two groups duking it out over who should be in charge.

Don't read history and be confused by whether the wolves call themselves Christians or Muslims or atheists or whatever. They use the belief to further their own cause.

I consider myself a follower of Christ. I read the bible. I spent 10 years in the military. I have a brother who lives in California and is married to a man. I don't understand it but he's my brother and I support his right to make a choice. I'm white and so is my wife but my other brother has children that are mixed race. I love spending time with them. I believe in evolution and that God created life. I think people should be able to pray in the street or school or wherever they want or don't if they don't want to.

I'm offended by things in life but I don't feel I have the right to go out and tell other people how to live just because it violates my personal worldview. I think if you see something that "offends" you you should sit down shut up and pike off. And if my saying that offends you, good.

Have we forgotten that this country was founded on christianity? God has always been a big part of our country.I`m offended by those who are trying to take God out of our country.The worst thing we can do is allow these people to remove religion from our government. I feel very sorry for our young people in this country.I would hate to see what our politions would be like if they didn`t feel they had God to answer to.

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