Christian attorneys are awaiting a court decision following a hearing this week over the right of a World War I memorial cross to remain on public land in the middle of California's Mojave Desert.
Attorneys with The National Legal Foundation, with the help of the conservative legal group Alliance Defense Fund, are defending the sale of public land to private parties in order to save the Mojave Desert Cross as a legal land transfer.
"Transferring the land to private parties was a proper way for the state to end the perceived problems regarding the memorial, which has stood in the Mojave Desert for decades in honor of World War I veterans," said ADF-allied attorney Joseph Martins of the National Legal Foundation in a press release.
"The court has the ability to put a much-needed check on the ACLU’s seek-and-destroy mission to hunt down and obliterate religious symbols in public."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars erected the first Mojave Desert Cross in 1934 in memory of those who fought and died in World War I, maintaining and replacing the cross as needed since then. Officially designated as a war memorial by Congress, the cross has also been the site of Easter sunrise services over the years.
A lawsuit, however, challenged the monument’s constitutionality disputing that its placement on federal land in the Mojave Desert violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state. It concluded that the cross should therefore be removed.
When the memorial became the subject of legal battles, government officials covered the cross with boards.
Supporters of the Mojave Desert Cross hoped to reach a settlement for the suit with the help of the Department of Defense’s transfer of the memorial land to private ownership in 2004. The ACLU sued, however, claiming before the 9th Circuit that the land transfer was invalid.
But such transfers already have legal precedent in several federal court cases, argues ADF Senior Counsel Joe Infranco.
A number of federal appellate courts have already held that government property may be transferred to private ownership to prevent challenges based on the Establishment Clause as "part of the First Amendment that is cited as the basis for the so-called separation of church and state," Infranco stated, according to One News Now.
The legal expert said the attempt to dismantle the memorial "adds injury to insult" for those who lost family and friends during World War I, according to a press release.
"We hope the court today recognizes the legality of the land transfer, so loved ones can resume memorializing those who have risked their lives defending our rights—the first of which is the right to religious expression and free speech," Infranco said in the press release.
ADF, which has funded a friend-of-the-court brief for The National Legal Foundation, also recently helped defend a similar land transfer to save San Diego’s Mount Soledad Cross in California.