September 26, 2009

ACLU runs amok in crusade against cross

Sacramento Bee

On Oct. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case – the culmination of a 10-year battle by the American Civil Liberties Union – to determine whether a 5-foot cross erected as a war memorial by veterans on a rock in California's Mojave Desert 75 years ago must be torn down.

Unless the Supreme Court overturns the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the cross – now shamefully covered with a plywood box – be toppled, say goodbye to religious symbols or symbols of sacrifice in the form of a cross at veterans' memorials throughout the country, including the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon.

Where is the outrage? How much longer does California have to put up with the costly years of litigation and flagrantly erroneous interpretations of the Constitution by the typically most overturned court in the nation – the 9th Circuit?

No one can possibly believe that a cross on a war memorial in the desert that happens to be on federal land means that the government has decreed Christianity the official religion of the United States – the ludicrous claim of the ACLU.

Behind the scenes of this blatant contempt for our constitutional rights to freedom of religion and speech is a sham of a case, Salazar v. Buono. The plaintiff, Frank Buono, a retired National Park Service employee at the Mojave National Preserve, between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, who moved from California to Oregon years ago, sued because he claimed that when he drove south to visit the preserve "two to four times a year," he was "deeply offended" by the cross on federal land. Never mind that there is another access point to the preserve where he could avoid seeing the memorial altogether. Laughably, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Timlin, ruled that inconvenience "sufficient to constitute injury."

In 2004, Congress voted to transfer the Mojave memorial to a private veterans' group, but the ACLU sued again – proving that the ACLU is not interested in a solution, only in tearing down the cross – and won in district court, a decision upheld by the 9th Circuit on a specious "separation of church and state" claim.

Two key legal issues are at stake.

First, does the hypersensitive Buono have "standing" to bring this suit? Can anyone who is "offended" at anything bring a lawsuit?

As the amicus brief from the American Legion states, previous Supreme Court decisions have made it clear that "standing requires some concrete actual or threatened personal injury." Standing cannot come from "perceived harm to mere psyche, feelings, or ideology." It cited a previous court decision that concluded that the "psychological damage" from viewing a religious portrait does not create a legal injury, and holding otherwise creates "a class of 'eggshell' plaintiffs of a delicacy never before known to the law." As the brief states, an adult "choosing to drive past a passive memorial containing a cross is not required, coerced, or even encouraged" to view the display.

The second question the court will review is, if the plaintiff does have standing to sue, did the 9th Circuit err in stopping Congress from transferring the land into private hands?

On this point, Justice Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, joined by four other 9th Circuit justices who dissented from that court's decision, wrote that the court's ruling that Congress "cannot cure a government agency's Establishment Clause violation by ordering sale of the land upon which a religious symbol previously was situated" is a "novel rule" that "contravenes governing Supreme Court precedent," creates a "split" with other circuit court decisions, and "invites courts to encroach upon private citizens' rights under both the speech and religion clauses of the First Amendment."

Citing other cases in which imagery on veteran's memorials is being attacked, including the 19-year battle by the ACLU to tear down the Mount Soledad cross in San Diego, an amicus brief filed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, other veterans groups and American Ex-Prisoners of War, states that few if any symbols in Western military heritage are "more appropriate to honor exemplary service and the giving of one's life to save another than a cross, a universal symbol of beneficent sacrifice."

Without appropriate action by the Supreme Court, it concludes, "the destruction of this and an untold numbers of like veterans memorials is sealed, and the rest fall deeper under the threatening shadow of a judiciary already proven hostile toward them."