May 11th, 2010
11:58 AM ET

Mojave cross at center of court fight reported stolen

A war memorial shaped like a cross that has been at the center of a Supreme Court fight has been torn down by vandals from its remote perch in a California desert.

The 6-foot-tall metal structure was removed Sunday night from Sunrise Rock in a lonely stretch of the Mojave National Preserve, said government officials and veterans groups that have been fighting for years to keep the cross on national park land.

The National Park Service said it is investigating the incident; no arrests had been made as of Tuesday morning.

The high court on April 28 ruled the cross did not violate the constitutional separation of church and state. The American Civil Liberties Union, which had brought the original lawsuit to have the cross removed, promised to continue the court fight.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Liberty Institute, the legal organization that represents the veterans groups in the case, are offering rewards totaling $35,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those behind the theft.

"This is an outrage, akin to desecrating people's graves," said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Liberty Institute. "It's a disgraceful attack on the selfless sacrifice of our veterans. We will not rest until this memorial is reinstalled."

The Latin cross was first erected in 1934 by a local VFW unit to honor war dead. It has been rebuilt several times over the years, and Easter services are held annually at the remote desert site. The site is surrounded by about 1.6 million acres, or 2,500 square miles, of national park land.

The cross itself was embedded in rock held in place by concrete. Whomever removed it would have had to climb up the steep outcropping, maneuvering around rattlesnakes that hide in the crevices.

A federal judge in 2001 ordered the cross covered with plywood until the legal issues were resolved. Many tourists driving by the site had believed the memorial was a neglected billboard.

The Park Service told CNN the wooden cover was reported missing Saturday morning. When staff arrived Monday to replace it, the cross itself was missing.

"Park law enforcement is investigating this crime and is asking for the public's assistance," said Linda Slater, a Mojave National Preserve spokeswoman.

The unofficial caretakers of the structure said they are heartbroken at its disappearance. Henry and Wanda Sandoz have driven 140 miles each way from their home on a weekly basis to maintain the area. Sitting near the cross last September, Henry Sandoz told CNN he has needed to do heavy maintenance over the years.

"Up until the box went on it, I would replace it when it got knocked down, repair it," he said. "The last time, I had to get a couple of cowboys across the way and they helped me put it up. We had to literally to hoist it up because it's heavy, 3-inch pipe, and filled it with cement. I put it up to stay."

Frank Buono, a former Park Service employee, initiated the lawsuit, saying the cross represented government endorsement of the Christian faith. A federal appeals court ultimately agreed, and rejected a move by Congress in 2003 to transfer the tiny portion of land where the cross sits to the VFW as a privately held national memorial.

The justices did not completely resolve the fight over the fate of the cross, but the conservative majority reaffirmed recent rulings that there is a limited place for religious symbols on government land.

"It is reasonable to interpret the congressional designation as giving recognition to the historical meaning that the cross had attained," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. "The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion's role in society."

soundoff (228 Responses)
  1. C'mon

    If someone wants to put up a religious symbol for Veterans then by all means do so, I think the Veterans and their families who have religious backgrounds would appreciate it.

    For those who do not have a religious background and believe that Veterans without a religious background should be honored then by all means put up your own symbol not remove another. One thing is certain, you cannot make everyone happy.

    Lets spend more time helping each other rather than fighting each other. In my eyes Veterans are the most important people in this country and should be honored, so lets do it constructively.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tod

    Cameron: it doesn't matter to YOU. It obviously matters to some people.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. steve

    The cross has been a sign of war dead for generations. But today's liberals are so intolerant that they desecrate a memorial to the dead just to make a point. Typical intolerant liberal hypocrasy.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cameron

    @Tod

    bottom line is: its private property which is not subject to the laws restricting what symbols you can put on public property

    May 11, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Thomas

    Everything in this post that I am reading is the reason we GO TO WAR.

    Tear down every religion and all that is left is PEOPLE!

    The cross was a memorial for ONE, JUST ONE, type of soldier. It does not represent all that died. I dont care what religion you or anybody is, was, or will be. It is person choice!

    If you are a good person "YOU DON'T STEAL" and "YOU DON'T MURDER".

    But what everybody posting here is saying is just pure evil. No religio says kill those who do not believe (and before anybody says it, MUSLUMS do not believe this either).

    I never said atheist did it, nor did I say they didn't, I trying to say don't blame any single group without evidence!

    May 11, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Matthew

    As an American I believe firmly in the separation of church and state, but as a veteran I am thoroughly outraged that this memorial was desecrated. This memorial infringed on no one’s rights except sadly those that are looking to pick a fight. Ironically it is the sacrifice of the veterans for whom this memorial was erected that make the ACLU even possible.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michael

    Steve, the CROSS has been the sign for CHRISTIAN war dead, not all war dead.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jahenders

    Clearly a hate crime far more heinous than many, based on previous cases. Certainly,this is far more hateful than someone putting a crude railroad-tie cross at a newly designated Wiccan site at the Air Force Academy.

    Clearly, the people who perpetrated this are hateful, intolerant, and bigoted.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brian Coles

    All right, So Sad: Michael is saying he will accept a teabagging by you. Go for it.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tod

    Cameron: I don't think that's the bottom line; the property was public when this started, just because some politicians did some hocus-pocus with the land deed doesn't mean a thing.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Graciela Irrne

    I believe it is a sign of disrespect and in an time when all sorts of groups are getting more respect and things like wearing an American flag on their t-shirts can send five kids home just because it is cinco de mayo it it time to think and evaluate why Christians are getting less respect why is a cross so offensive today and what does it mean to the rest of the nation when Christ is something to hide and feel ashamed of when the founders of ths nation were christians.I have always be of Christian faith and now that I am a born again christian I feel that it is time to tell people who Christ really is and it is up to the people to open the hearts and receive Jesus or go on their way their choice is theirs just like it was mine and with letting people go their own way comes respect and peace of mind who took the cross out of Mohave desert is not an opportunty to point fingers at atheists agnostics or Christians or other people who might have taken it for profit it is just another piece of news for us to think aboutand reflect on where our country is going.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rhk3925

    I had relatives fight in all 3 of the great wars of the last century,and myself in Nam all of which are honored by something like that monument. It's a disgrace to have something like that happen.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bobber

    thank god someone stole that cross. sick of here about stupid religious people in America. Can't we just deport them back to Europe.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. govwatcher

    What next, are athiests going to demand that crosses and stars of David be removed from military cemetaries, since they're paid for with taxpayer money??? Enjoy the freedoms our veterans bought us with their blood by desecrating their graves and memorials? Way to go, ACLU.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. atheist guy

    As an atheist, I don't mind having this cross up. It makes no difference to me.

    I hope whoever vandlized this monument gets caught and has to deal with the consequences of their actions.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16