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. rh

    "May they not find peace until it's returned."

    What a db you are, a cross is a piece of material, I don't like whoever did this or why, regardless of my atheist status, but to think that religious types would wish such a thing is disgusting.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Steve from California

    We've lost our culture!

    May 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marvin Guardarrama

    Religion is out of line and stupid, and should not be condoned regardless how creative the courts get.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tod

    Marvin: "Sometimes good things just have to happen by force."

    You sound like a jihadist.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Richp, Easton, Pa

    To the people that stole it, you are nothing but cowards in the night which is about what I expect from many aspects of our citizens now.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. whatever

    I'm agnostic personally, but I find this very sad. That was a memorial to fallen veterans and should have been honored as such.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kerri

    It could have been just a group of disrespectful jerks, who care less about the lawsuit. Either way it was very disrespectful. Also it's very disturbing that the cross is gone and the ACLU still wants to sue. In my opinion that's what we should be concerned about.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John

    Hold up a second...shouldn't we find out WHO took the cross before judgements are made? What's going on in this country when we as a people cannot reason things out anymore. We are a dis-illusioned and find it easier to point fingers and shout than to really think something through and ask ourselves how did we get here and how can we all make sense of the world around us. I mean what better way to keep the issue alive than to make the cross disappear. I think the ones in support of keeping there stand to gain more fgrom it's disappearance. Think about it. Who could be playing who?

    May 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jimh77

    I 2nd Kevin Allards post on the fence and say we electrify it with 34000 Volts.
    Let them just try to touch it again. This has nothing to do with Religion and all to do with those that gave their lives for this Country. Prosecut the theives and run them out of this Country.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Travis

    Hey ACLU, maybe we should apply the same logic to remove all of the crosses on headstones at Arlington National Cemetary. Arlington is federal land right?

    May 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nick

    boo hoo for the veterans...the 10 commandments don't belong on public land, and neither do crosses, and neither do stars of david or statues of zeus or venus, or a smiling budda or the pillars of islam. kthanks.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael

    Now that the cross is gone, why not erect a fitting, permanent memorial? A cross really doesn't represent or honor all who fought.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tod

    Jimh77 "This has nothing to do with Religion and all to do with those that gave their lives for this Country."

    Even the Jewish ones? This cross was a clear violation of the church/state separation.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Frankie

    If Jesus had lived in the modern world, we wouldn't have a cross, we'd have a giant electric chair or maybe a syringe. That would be a nice war memorial, too don't you think?

    May 11, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bill

    "The truth is, is that for every act of violence, vandalism, etc blamed on so called right wing radicals there are at least 100 actual acts by left wingers, (progressives, socialists, marxists, commies)."

    Interesting. You of course have verifiable statistics for this given that it is "The truth"?

    My guess is with all the publicity someone figured out they could get some money for it ala the Arebit Macht Frei sign that was recently stolen in Poland.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
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