Salazar v. Buono: Was It Good for the Jews?

On April 28 the Supreme Court decided Salazar v. Buono – the case about the Latin Cross atop Sunrise Rock in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. JSPAN, readers of our newsletter surely recall, had filed an Amicus Curiae brief in support of Frank Buono, the retired National Park employee who believed that such a cross on government land violated the very first words in our Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion”). Our esteemed Editor asked us to write a piece about the decision and we promised her we would.

But a funny thing happened on the way to keeping that promise – actually two funny things, and they weren’t really all that funny. First the Solicitor General of the United States who argued the case on behalf of the Government, Elana Kagan, was nominated to be a Supreme Court Justice. Next, thieves disassembled and stole the Latin Cross. With two such dramatic, front-page of the New York Times, distractions, who would be interested in a piece about the actual decision?

Still, a promise is a promise. So, briefly, here goes: Seventy five years ago the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), without the Government’s permission, placed a Latin Cross and a descriptive plaque on Sunrise Rock to honor those who died in World War I. Annually thereafter there were gatherings there for Easter Sunrise services (never on Veterans Day or Armistice Day). Frank Buono, a practicing Roman Catholic and a member of the ACLU, brought the matter to ACLU’s attention; correspondence between ACLU and the Park Service ensued; a Buddhist requested permission to place a Stupa (a Buddhist shrine) next to the Latin Cross; the Park Service denied the request and advised him that the Latin Cross would be removed. This occurred near the end of the Clinton Administration.