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. enki


    It was metal. Probably just a tweaker who took it to a recycler.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dystopiax

    In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    Major John McCrae, Canadian field surgeon

    May 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scott

    @Virginia Reverend,

    Very well put! I agree completely... and I am an atheist.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. teej

    and if I'm not mistaken, soldiers' families CAN choose from a variety of symbols at the veterans cemetaries.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cameron


    exactly it WAS public and its now private. And its not hocus pocus its called the legal system. If you have a problem with it then you dedicate your life to fixing it. But for now its private property and they can put a giant dong there to commemorate the war dead if they really want to. its private land, deal with it, there isn't anything you or anyone else can do now to change that. Unless of course you want to buy it yourself, then you can put a giant stature of al gore there to celebrate liberalism or whatever.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff

    If any human being rejects Jesus Christ in this life, he or she will be rejected in the next. We are all sinners in need of a savior; the only atonement for our sins is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Todd Roll

    You guys is stupid. Its not the vandals who takes cross down.

    Obvious it was the liberals in hollywood trying to find a big letter T so they cans update the hollwood sign to says "THE HOLLYWOOD".

    Get a brian morans

    May 11, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sarah

    The people that stole this memorial are morons – if they were against it being there they only hurt their own cause. I am an atheist and I don't think that the government should take any measure that endorses one religion over another or over none at all. I dont understand why they couldn't just move the monument off government property. It honestly doesn't belong there – it can still honor veterans in another location. Perhaps closer to Henry Sandoz's house so he doesn't have to drive 125 miles to check it every week...

    Don't blame the ACLU or other Americans that care about separation of church and state for something some punk teenager probably did. Vandalism is never okay, and it certainly wasn't in this case. This was just plain disrespectful and childish. So was the fact that neither side was willing to compromise on this issue. Sometimes the ACLU needs to be a bit more selective in the issues they take on – this lawsuit was never going to endear people to their point of view and the cross being torn down only makes them look more like the bad guys, regardless of the fact that they had nothing to do with it. Not teaching religion to in public schools – that's important. Not discriminating against someone for their religion or lack of one – also important. The removal of a cross in the middle of the desert that means a lot to a lot of people – not so much. Pick your battles!

    May 11, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. KJM1968

    Why did they choose a cross to honor the soldiers? Why not use the Star of David? I would think something military would be more appropriate than using a religious symbol. Doesn't seem fair to honor only Christian soldiers, and to hell with the rest of them.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Frank


    Sorry, you the idiot. The transfer to private property was rejected. "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."

    So, once again, would it be ok with you to put up a crescent moon on public lands?

    Please explain why not.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. PurpleHeart

    Um, first of all the Veterans that died serving their country were violated and dishonored when they were sent to war and killed. They are dead. You can't honor them, they are worm food. Any Veteran who has served in combat knows this. They were sent to die by politicians who probably were not veterans, most likely chicken hawks (like Cheney et all) for resources or political aims that should have been accomplished without sacrificing poor kids in the meat grinders of war. This is true for any war, especially WWI. Even your precious just war WWII. Give me a break. If you want to truly honor a Vet, even a dead one, don't build a cross, preach about how American you are and they are to end war and bring our soldiers home. Then you will be doing something useful, just and good.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cameron

    @ sarah
    go read the actual story. Its not on public land. do some actual research.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jeremy

    If I were a war veteran, what I would find insulting about this memorial is that it presumes to "honor" me with a silly religious symbol. I would find this as insulting as if one of my descendants converted to Mormonism after I had died, thus allowing the Mormon church to "save" me and claim my name in their membership.

    Your idols do not represent me. Keep them off of public property. If you want to live in a theocracy, move to Iran.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Henry

    Blame it on the illegals. That's what Arizona does.

    May 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dave davidson

    Why don't we build a memorial to the native Americans that the US Calvary killed to obtain the land?

    May 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
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