ACLU and Local Residents Debate Symbolism of Local Cross

November 5, 2000

Source: Los Angeles Times

On November 5, 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported that a 66 year old cross is the subject of debate between local citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The cross, situated in the Mojave National Preserve, was erected in honor of WWI veterans. Today, the ACLU contends that it is a violation of the 1st amendment to allow it to remain on federal land. Many local citizens, however, say that the cross is about more than religion. In fact, it serves as a meeting place for residents for Easter sunrise services, meetings, potlucks and picnics. Henry Sandos is one local man who has helped replace the cross after weather and vandalism damage over the past 20 years. He says that his efforts are in honor of Riley Bembry, a WWI veteran who helped erect it. "He was my good friend--one of my best friends," Sandos says. "It was his wish that it be put back up." Many other residents go to the cross for the beautiful natural surroundings and peaceful atmosphere. A nearby resident who took offense to the symbol recently contacted the ACLU. In an Oct. 20 letter, park service Regional Director John J. Reynolds agreed to remove the cross "within the next few months," but said, "We expect significant negative public and political reaction to removal of the cross." Other civil liberties cases over the years have sparked similar moves. While the ACLU declares that a cross clearly flies in the face of the separation of church and state, local citizens see the issue differently. "It means so much to different people," one man said. "It's not a religious sign as such. It's just a place where we pause and reflect and take comfort."