Justices to decide if vets can be honored with cross
Vets defend California icon
Some see it as the universal symbol of sacrifice in World War I, others see it as the undisputed sign of Christianity, but it will be up to the Supreme Court to make a final determination as to whether a 7-foot cross remains standing in a California desert to memorialize war veterans.
The cross was first erected in 1934 in what is now the federally protected Mojave Desert Preserve by a group of veterans whose doctors advised them that the desert heat would help them recover from shell shock.
Veterans today say this war memorial and others like it across the country that use religious symbols are under attack by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
"They are not the enemy; they are just dead wrong," says Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
But the civil liberties group says the cross is offensive to Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and other non-Christian veterans.
"People of every faith have fought and died for this country," says Peter Eliasberg, counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. "Yet we will have veterans divided about the idea of how you reflect the sacrifice of American veterans."
"For us to choose the principal symbol of one religion that says Jesus is the Son of God and He is divine and say that is an appropriate way to reflect the sacrifice of people who don't believe that ... is excluding by its very nature," Mr. Eliasberg said.
"What we would like done, it is appropriate to have a war memorial and to choose a symbol that reflects everyone, and not a symbol that divides veterans by their faith," Mr. Eliasberg said.
At a gathering last week at the National Press Club, just before the Memorial Day weekend, several veterans organizations made their case for why the Supreme Court should rule in their favor during its next session, which begins in October.
"This Memorial Day is more than just a three-day weekend at the beach," Mr. Davis said. "This is about remembrance."