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Removal of California memorial cross blocked by U.S. Supreme Court

April 28, 2010 |  7:41 am


The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the removal of a congressionally endorsed war memorial cross from its longtime home in the Mojave Desert, saying a federal court went too far in ordering that it be taken out.

At issue is a cross that sits atop Sunrise Rock in a remote part of California's Mojave National Preserve. Since 1934, the cross has existed, in one form or another, as a war memorial. Different court documents refer to it as 5 to 8 feet tall.

A decade ago, it came under legal attack from a former National Park Service employee who, though a Catholic, thought it was inappropriate to favor one religion over another in the preserve. The park service had turned down a request to have a Buddhist symbol erected nearby.

A federal judge and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the stand-alone display of the cross in the national preserve was unconstitutional and, further, that Congress' move to transfer it to the private Veterans of Foreign Wars did not solve the problem.

The Obama administration, joining with the VFW, urged the high court to uphold the display of the cross now that it is in private hands.

U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan said the "sensible action by Congress" to give the VFW control of the cross and the land under it solved the 1st Amendment problem. The cross is no longer on government land and under government control, she said.

According to the Associated Press, the justices said Wednesday that the earlier ruling by federal judges did not take sufficient notice of the government's decision to transfer the land to private ownership to eliminate any constitutional concern about a religious symbol on public land.

A full report from the Supreme Court coming soon.

-- Times staff writer

Photo: The cross covered. L.A. Times file