October 8, 2009
The straight man for the classic Honeymooners TV show could deliver a line sorely needed at today's Supreme Court hearing on the fate of the Mojave Desert war memorial cross: "Simmer down, Ralphie boy!"
In this case, Ralphie is Frank Buono, a man who has gone to absurd lengths to find offense. In fact, it's reminiscent of the false knock on the Puritans that they above all else feared that someone, somewhere was having a good time. In Frankie's case, he apparently fears that someone, somewhere might take comfort in a cross erected to honor America's fallen heroes.
At issue in Salazar v. Buono is the five-foot-tall (estimates vary) cross that is the latest in a series of crosses erected on Sunrise Rock since 1934 in California's Mojave National Preserve. The original was built by World War I veterans with the Veterans of Foreign Wars who had gone to the desert for their health and decided to honor their fallen comrades and the rest of America's war dead by erecting a wooden cross. The current one, made of pipe, was built in 1998 by a local resident, Henry Sandoz. The cross is in a remote region seen by few. But one of those is Buono, a former Park Service employee and ACLU member who told the ACLU that although he moved to Oregon, he comes down and sees the cross "two to four times a year." That was enough for the ACLU to file a lawsuit in 2001 demanding that the National Park Service tear down the cross.
A quick comparison. In Berlin, Ronald Reagan thrilled millions by saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The ACLU, on the other hand, squeals loudly, "Courts, tear down this cross!" Whose country would you rather live in?
In 2004, Congress passed laws designating the site as a national war memorial and swapping the land on which the cross stands for some privately owned acreage. But Mr. Buono, whose complaint was that a cross on taxpayer-owned federal land violated his First Amendment right against establishment of religion, filed an injunction halting the transfer. He claims that he's an injured party although the government gave him relief on his original request: "Stop saying ‘yes' to my demands, or I'll sue!" Naturally, the wacky Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco found merit in his argument, bringing us to the Oct. 7 hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Park officials years ago covered the cross in canvas lest the sight of it burn Mr. Buono's eyes on one of his strolls. After some patriot tore off the canvas, the cross was covered in a plywood box. Could there be a more apt symbol of what the ACLU wants to do to religion in this country?
C.S. Lewis once remarked that the agenda of the Left is to make pornography public and religion private, a goal clearly reflected in the ACLU's endless string of nuisance cases. They've gained a lot of ground. While America is awash in Internet porn and ever-more coarse trash on TV, an obscure cross honoring our war dead gets hammered into a box.
In June, the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), an antidote to the ACLU, filed an amicus brief that says Mr. Buono has no standing in this case because he is claiming injury based on his own injunction that has foiled the relief that he had sought.
The brief by ACRU attorneys Peter Ferrara and Ken Klukowski observes that,
"It is therefore not an end to taxpayer support for the cross that Mr. Buono seeks, but rather to employ judicial power to compel the executive branch to destroy this war memorial. Standing doctrine should not be construed to empower plaintiffs to use the courts to convert the executive branch into a demolition crew that levels crosses to the ground."
The VFW and many other groups also have submitted briefs in defense of the cross. There is much at stake. An ACLU victory could imperil crosses and Stars of David on the graves of soldiers in 22 war memorial cemeteries and encourage the ACLU to look for yet more targets. They are still trying to tear down the 29-foot Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross near San Diego. In recent years, they've sued to have religious symbols removed from the seals of Stow, Ohio; Redlands, California; Duluth, Minnesota; Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and Republic, Missouri. In Los Angeles, the mere threat of an ACLU lawsuit motivated the County Board of Supervisors to vote to remove a cross from the county seal in 2004 despite the wishes of 94 percent of the residents.
This past week, the Pentagon reported that eight more American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. They paid the ultimate price defending freedom and America's security.
What do you think their fathers, mothers, wives and children would say if they came upon that cross covered up in a box?
Robert Knight is a Senior Fellow with the American Civil Rights Union, a Senior Writer for Coral Ridge Ministries, and the author of Fighting for America's Soul (Coral Ridge, 2009).