Washington, DC - In a last ditch effort to circumvent a federal court order, the Bush Administration is backing a legislative land exchange that would retain a cross in the center of the Mojave National Preserve in private hands. On July 23, a federal district court in Riverside, California ordered the removal of a large white cross from atop a prominent hill on Preserve lands by granting a motion for summary judgment in an ACLU lawsuit brought by Frank Buono, a Board member of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
A massive public lands bill introduced last week in the House of Representatives (HR 5569) included a provision ordering the exchange of one acre of land containing the cross for private tracts. The bill, which includes provisions from approximately 100 separate bills, would redraw park boundaries to withdraw the one-acre parcel from the National Park system. HR 5569 conditions the exchange on the continued maintenance of the cross.
Less than three months ago, the district court found that the cross, erected on federal land, violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and permanently enjoined the Park Service from permitting the display of the cross in the area of Sunrise Rock in the middle of Mojave National Preserve.
This latest legislative maneuver follows on the heels of other attempts to preserve the cross:
Ø Enactment of a legislative rider in 2001 forbidding use of federal funds to remove the five foot cross from federal lands;
Ø A provision in the FY 2002 Defense Appropriation Act declaring the cross a national memorial and appropriating $10,000 to erect a commemorative plaque (making it the first religious symbol to be declared a national memorial); and
Ø Religiously conservative Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department has vigorously contested the Buono suit and is now facing a deadline for appeal.
"The Bush Administrations attempts to promote Christianity are both offensive and unconstitutional," stated Frank Buono, a former deputy Superintendent at Mojave. "This petty and transparent ploy shows a fundamental disrespect for the stewardship of lands belonging to all Americans, regardless of faith."
A copy of the complaint, Buono v. Norton, is available at