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In the vast desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve. Located within the preserve, in an area so remote that an hour can pass between cars traveling by, sits a seven-foot cross on the top of a hill.
There used to be a cross there, that is. Today, the cross is covered by a plywood box, looking for all the world like a blank billboard on a lonely rock outcropping.
The reason the cross is covered is as simple as it is dangerous: The cross is the latest target of radical secularists who seek to drive every manifestation of God and faith from our public spaces, however remote.
That these secularists would target a cross that sits literally in the middle of nowhere speaks to their fanaticism. That they would seek to destroy it speaks to their totalitarianism. For religious freedom to exist anywhere, it seems, is a threat to them everywhere.
For 75 years, what has become known as the Mojave Cross has stood on a remote outcropping in the desert known as Sunrise Rock. The cross was first erected in 1934 by the Death Valley chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to honor the servicemen and -women who lost their lives in World War I.
For more than six decades, the cross stood, as it does at war memorials across the country, in memory of the American war dead. But about a decade ago, a park service employee in the preserve decided he was offended by the presence of a cross on federal land.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he sued, arguing that the cross violates the constitutional prohibition on government establishment of religion. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals–the same court that ruled the words “under God” unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance–agreed and ordered the cross removed.
But then Congress got involved and came up with a solution. The land the Mojave Cross sits on was transferred from the federal government to the VFW, thus removing the constitutional issue, for some, of a religious symbol on federal land.
But even that solution was not enough for the radical secularists. They’ve taken the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where justices heard arguments in the case earlier this fall.
It’s anybody’s guess how the high court will rule or if will rule on the merits of the case at all. But it’s clear to the nation’s veterans what is at stake.
Literally thousands of other monuments and memorials on public lands display the cross and other religious imagery. If the court finds the Mojave Cross “offensive” for the ACLU and its allies, the crosses and other expressions of religious faith that honor our war dead elsewhere are in jeopardy as well.
It’s a tragic irony that the men and women who died protecting our religious freedom may be denied theirs after death.
For the Founders, religious liberty and freedom of religious expression were indispensable supports to political freedom. But for the radical secularists, the truth is just the opposite: They see religious freedom as an obstacle to their political project to remake America into something our Founders wouldn’t recognize.
We’ve seen this kind of totalitarianism before. As we relate in our upcoming movie about Pope John Paul II and the end of communism in Eastern Europe, communists sought to systematically eliminate the cross in Poland in order to better control the Polish people.
As we enter the Christmas season, it’s important for Americans of all religious faiths to understand how important a cross in the desert–a cross they may never see–is to the survival of our liberty.
We are a nation founded on the truth that our rights come from God, not government.
If we give a handful of radicals and an imperial judiciary the power to decide that they, not our Creator, grant us our rights, we will be giving them the power to take our rights away.
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.
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