Battle to Tear Down a Tribute

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The Mojave Desert (search) is not the kind of hardscrabble place you'd expect to find the latest battle in the culture wars.

But that's exactly where the ACLU is battling with locals to tear down a cross that was erected as a tribute to World War I veterans.

In 1934, a tough old prospector named J. Riley Bembry (search) put up a steel cross on Sunrise Rock at a time when the Mojave Desert truly was God's country.

But in 1994, President Clinton declared the area around Sunrise Rock a federal reserve, and that's when the ACLU moved in. A former park ranger named Frank Buono (search) hooked up with the ACLU, demanding that the National Park Service tear down the cross. Mr. Buono says he's offended by seeing the cross, and since it's now on federal property, the feds should tear it down.

So far the courts have been agreeing with the ACLU, right up through the 9th Circuit Appeals Court. The ACLU has even managed to collect $63,000, because of a law that forces plaintiffs to pay legal fees in even partially successful civil rights cases.

And if the ACLU wins at Sunrise Rock, what's to stop them from going after the crosses at Arlington National Cemetery. Says one observer: "The courts will have a hard time devising a principle by which those thousands of crosses on federal land are not as unconstitutional as the one in the desert." Stay tuned.

And that's the Observer.

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