Located at the top of Sunrise Rock in the heart of the Mojave National Preserve, the Mojave Cross was erected in 1934 as a memorial, “In honor and memory of all military dead of all wars.” Originally placed there by a group of veterans after returning from World War I, they had no idea that some sixty years later their memorial to friends, family, and loved ones would stand in a federal preserve, and that it would cause much controversy.
In 2001, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a man living in Oregon, that was offended by seeing the cross on federal land. A lower federal court ordered the removal of the cross, and blocked the ability for the land to be transferring to the Barstow chapter of the VFW in exchange for land privately owned within the Preserve by one of its members. Liberty Institute got involved and filed an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the VFW, The American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart and American Ex-Prisoners of War.
The cross remained in place during the duration of the legal battle, however it spent a number of those years boarded up inside of a box in an effort not to offend those passing by. In 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling and declared that a law passed by Congress in 2003 was constitutional. This would allow the transfer of the memorial, and the land, to the VFW in exchange for private land within the National Preserve.
Days after the verdict, on May 10th 2010 the cross that had been battled over for 10 years was stolen. Despite the missing cross the land exchange was official in April of 2012. In November of that same year the Mojave Cross was found along a road in Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco. It was attached to a fence post with plastic ties and a note that simply read, “important historical artifact.”
On Veterans Day of 2012, the cross was returned to the top of Sunrise Rock, and a rededication ceremony was held with over 200 people in attendance.
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