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. doofus

    i will laugh heartily when we all find out this was done by some punk kids, totally unrelated to the court case, having no idea there was even one. just some dorks destroying property...

    May 11, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jonny

    Interesting how many defend the cross, but have no regard for other imagery representing the dead, such as Native American burial sites and spiritually significant sites, that get trampled daily as the pleas of the Tribes. People are willing to defend what They have faith in but shyte on others.
    Take a look in the mirror people.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chris

    PQ,

    I'm not sure I follow how Richard's comment is "stupid"... He's merely commenting about how there may be a more appropriate memorial for fallen soldiers than a giant cross.

    That being said, what these people did is abhorrent.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kris

    The people who took it would probably had not even know it was there were it not for the media coverage. I honestly don't see how this memorial was hurting anybody, and therefore I see this lawsuit as misguided. All this Left versus Right venom is what is truly tearing this country apart. We here in America are too immature to handle freedom, because we don't know the oppression first hand which makes people cherish that freedom. Everybody is far too quick to act to limit someone else's freedom.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brian Coles

    I guess it's either some adorants of Christopher Hitchens, or some students of some Bolshevik Dali Bama worshipers at Berkeley, or just some punk who needs his head shaken with a pipe.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. nygiants4ever

    I know a few veterans that would love the opportunity to guard a replacement monument. I assume the perpetrators would not fair too well should they try and steal the replacement. Semper Fii

    May 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Billy J Pringle

    Zealotry in any flavor makes the zealots look like a bunch of backwater hicks. Congratulations to what ever religion hating group that did this You have painted your side with the ugly brush. Now your more intelligent counterparts will have that much more prejudice to fight when making any kind of rational argument with an opponent. Some folks just don't get what living in a Democracy or Republic means. My freedom begins where yours ends. We don't have the right to tear our neighbors stuff down because we don't like looking at it.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Deneen

    First I believe that the veterans who lived in the area near the Mojave who died in WWII were Christians, hence the cross.

    I can see that maintaining a Cross for Christians who died in another war not something to quibble about in the Supreme Court. It is a silly stupid argument and not worth the time, considering those who really need to have their rights resolved in this country right this minute.

    The ACLU would do better thinking about the rights of people who are feeling trampled, not worry about a cross no one can see.

    P.S.In response to Nick, where have you been while we fight Al Queda in Afghanistan and *ahem* Iraq, to 'free the people' from tyranny of religion. How is this war we are in now NOT been about God and/or religion? Terrorism = Al Queda = Religious Jihad. Yep, religious war. (This is just the argument that's been used by the government, not myself)

    May 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Duane

    That is distruction for Federal property, find the criminals and give them 30 years. No different than painting on the Washington monument.......

    May 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Thomas

    To anybody who states "atheist radical", athiests don't care if the cross was there or not. I belonged there as a memorial. It should stay there as a piece of national history. The only thing that makes me mad is when God is preached to people who do not believe in the same god, it should not be in public schools or government, that is all. The cross DID NOT preach, it was a teacher of our history, American history.

    Those who torn it down do not understand what it meant to anyone, they only understand what it meant to them. They took away a freedom. One which they thought they were fighting for.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. tim

    why are you all assuming an atheist did it?

    May 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. soulsabr

    Doesn't surprise me a bit.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael

    What does support or even love of our fighting forces have to do with a cross, let alone a cross in the middle of no where? I'll tell you, nothing at all. A cross in the current context is about Christ and that is as it should be. Why pretend to confuse the two? Does claiming the cross somehow represents love or support of our military justify its existence? Does its existence need to be justified? Really, think about that. All things in there place people.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jeff Brockway

    I am a war Veteran and an Atheist. More than half of my friends that died did not have Jesus or the church on their minds while we were there. I am 100% sure I do NOT want a cross as my memorial. My jewish and atheist friends do not want it either.

    If you want to make a memorial, use a cannon, boot, M16/helmet or even better, the flag we fought under...

    May 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. teej

    Hey "todd 12:20pm," it was on PRIVATE land, and this battle WAS won in the courts. Separately, why are atheists so afraid of something that "doesn't exist?" I'm not all that afraid of unicorns, go ahead and worship them and build monuments to them.

    May 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
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