LOS ANGELES - A U.S. District Court has granted the ACLU of Southern California's motion for summary judgement and held that the presence of the Mojave Desert Cross, a religious symbol, on federal land violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
"This is a huge victory not only for the ACLU but also for the First Amendment," said Peter Eliasberg, staff attorney with the ACLU/SC. "Government should not be in the business of advancing one particular religion over another or denigrating one religion or another. Time and time again the courts have held that erecting a permanent religious fixture on federal land violates the United States Constitution. The violation is even plainer here, where the government refused a citizen's request to erect a symbol of another religion in the same area where the Mojave Cross stands."
The Mojave Desert Cross sits on a federal land preserve in southeastern California between the cities of Barstow, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. The preserve encompasses roughly 1.6 million acres of the Mojave Desert. The cross itself is located in a section of the preserve known as Sunrise Rock.
The National Park Service (NPS), the agency that is charged with maintaining the cross, has been on notice about First Amendment violations since 1999 when the ACLU/SC sent a letter threatening legal action if the cross was not removed. In December of 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives added a rider to an appropriations bill that prevented the use of federal funds to remove the cross.
"This is a clear cut First Amendment issue," said Peter Eliasberg. "The display of this cross on federal land is in violation of the Constitution and no amount of maneuvering or grandstanding on the part of Congress will change that."