Congressman Jerry Lewis Tuesday praised the resolution of the court case attacking the Mojave Cross veterans' memorial, and urged the National Park Service to quickly complete a land transfer that will allow the Veterans of Foreign Wars to replace the memorial.
"It is a relief to end the court action on a case that should never have been in the courtroom in the first place," Lewis said. "Congress approved a transfer of land to allow the VFW to maintain a memorial to World War I veterans -- it is hard to imagine how such a move could be challenged as government establishment of religion."
The National Park Service announced Tuesday that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has approved a settlement that effectively ends the court challenge against the Mojave Cross by the American Civil Liberties Union. The settlement clears the way for the Park Service to complete a land transfer to allow the cross location to be maintained by the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Barstow.
Legislation that authorized the land transfer was pushed through Congress by Lewis nearly a decade ago. That legislation culminated several years of efforts by Lewis to protect the cross, which was established nearly 80 years ago by desert residents who were veterans of World War I. It was maintained by residents as a memorial to veterans until the ACLU sued the Park Service in 2001. The Park Service consequently covered the cross, and it was cut down and stolen by vandals two years ago.
The U.S. District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the land exchange did not resolve the constitutional ban against government establishment of religion, and declared the legislation void. They were over-ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, which ruled that the lower courts had not given proper weight to Congress's efforts to resolve the matter in a way that preserved the cross.
Lewis praised High Desert constituents Wanda and Henry Sandoz, who donated land they own in the Preserve to exchange for the parcel containing the cross. He also expressed gratitude to the VFW and the American Legion, which have taken strong national stands in support of maintaining the memorial.
"I look forward to the day when the Sandoz's can unveil the refurbished Mojave Cross memorial and turn it over to the VFW for its proper place in honoring our nation's defenders," Lewis said.