Local

April 26, 2012

Settlement clears way for cross in Mojave Desert

by Robert Jablon
Associated Press

A veterans group can restore a memorial cross in California’s Mojave Desert under a court settlement that ends a decade-old legal battle, the National Park Service said April 24.

A federal judge approved the lawsuit settlement April 24, permitting the park service to turn over a remote hilltop area known as Sunrise Rock to a Veteran of Foreign Wars post in Barstow and the Veterans Home of California-Barstow.

The park will give up the acre of land in exchange for five acres of donated property elsewhere in the 1.6 million acre preserve in Southern California.

The swap, which could be completed by the end of the year, will permit veterans to restore a cross to the site and end a controversy that became tangled in the thorny issues of patriotism and religion and made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

The last cross was ordered removed by the park service in 2010 because of a court order.

The donated land is owned by Henry and Wanda Sandoz of Yucca Valley.

Henry Sandoz, 72, cared for and replaced several crosses at the hilltop site over the years that were later defaced or stolen. He has a replacement 7-foot steel cross ready to go, said his wife, Wanda, 68.

“We’re very hopeful. We’ve been disappointed in the past,” she said in a telephone interview. “We thought when the Supreme Court ruled that we’d be out there within days putting it back up. Things move kind of slow but we really think this is it this time.”

Once the swap is complete, the park service will fence the site, leaving entrances for visitors, and post signs noting that it is private land. A plaque will be placed on the rock noting that it is a memorial for U.S. war veterans.

“We want to wrap this, we want to get it done,” Mojave National Preserve spokeswoman Linda Slater said of the controversy. “No cross can go up until the exchange is complete.”

Wanda Sandoz said a wooden cross was first erected on Sunrise Rock in 1934 by a World War I veteran, Riley Bembry. He and other shell-shocked vets had gone out to the desert to recover and would hold barbeques and barn dances near the site, she said.

Her husband knew Bembry and promised the dying vet that he would look after the cross, Wanda Sandoz said. He kept the promise for decades.

“We love the cross,” she said. “It’s in a beautiful spot. … My husband is not a veteran but he feels like this is something he can do for our country.”

The wooden cross was eventually replaced with one made of steel pipes. However, the site became part of the national preserve in 1994 and that meant the cross was then on public land.

The settlement involves a lawsuit filed in 2001 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a retired park service employee who argued that the Christian religious symbol was unconstitutionally located on government land. Federal courts ordered the removal of the cross.

In 2003, Congress stepped in and ordered the land swap. But the courts said the transfer was, in effect, an unacceptable end run around the constitutional problem.

The issue wound its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in April 2010 refused to order removal of the cross and directed a federal judge to look again at the congressional transfer plan.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, siding with the 5-4 majority, wrote that the cross evokes more than religion.

“It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten,” he said.

Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the dissenters, wrote that troops killed in battle deserve to be honored, but government “cannot lawfully do so by continued endorsement of a starkly sectarian message.”

Weeks after the court decision, the metal cross – which had been covered up to comply with court injunctions – was stolen. A replica mysteriously appeared on the site, but park service officials ordered it taken down because of a court order against displaying a cross on the site.

A second lawsuit was filed last year against the federal government on behalf of the veterans. That suit pushed for the land swap and will be dropped once the exchange is complete, said Gregg Wooding of the Liberty Institute, a Texas-based nonprofit legal organization that filed the suit.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines August 25, 2014

News: U.S. sends second carrier to Asia amid tensions with China - The Navy is sending a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Asia Pacific region amid new tensions with China over a dangerous aerial encounter between a Chinese interceptor and a Navy P-8 surveillance aircraft. SpaceX rocket explodes during test flight - A SpaceX rocket...
 
 

News Briefs August 25, 2014

China says U.S. plane intercept was professional China’s Defense Ministry has rejected U.S. accusations that a Chinese fighter jet conducted a dangerous intercept of a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft off the coast of China in international airspace. The ministry issued a statement Aug. 23 attributed to spokesman Yang Yujun calling the U.S. accusations groundless. It...
 
 

Ukraine plans $3 billion boost to defense spending

KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s president announced plans Aug. 24 to boost his country’s defense spending by an estimated 50 percent as government forces seek to overpower pro-Russian separatists in the east. President Petro Poroshenko pledged to spend an extra 40 billion hryvnia ($3 billion) by 2017 during a speech marking Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet...
 

 

NASA awards research facilities, engineering support services contract

NASA has awarded a contract for research facilities and engineering support services to InuTeq, LLC of Greenbelt, Maryland, in support of the Mission Information and Test Systems Directorate at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. This cost-plus-award-fee contract covers a one-year base period beginning Nov. 1, 2014 and four one-year options, and is valued...
 
 

Navy Awards General Dynamics contract for LCS planning yard services

The U.S. Navy awarded General Dynamics Bath Iron Works a $100 million contract to provide planning yard services for the Littoral Combat Ship program. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works is a business unit of General Dynamics. Bath Iron Works, as the LCS Planning Yard, will provide maintenance and modernization support for all Navy LCS 1...
 
 
boeing-boc

Boeing, BOC Aviation announce order for 82 airplanes

  Boeing announced Aug. 25 an order by BOC Aviation for 50 737 MAX 8s, 30 Next-Generation 737-800s and two 777-300ERs (Extended Range). The order, valued at $8.8 billion at list prices, is the largest in BOC Aviation’...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>