High court hears arguments in Establishment case

Religion was at the forefront as the U.S. Supreme Court began its new term in October 2009. Justices heard arguments and seemed divided over whether a cross in a national preserve violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.


The cross, which honors World War I soldiers, was first erected — without permission — in California’s Mojave Desert in 1934. The cross was the center of the Salazar v. Bruno legal case before the Supreme Court. Discussion concerned whether an 8-foot, government maintained cross standing on federal land as a war memorial for more than 75 years violated the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state. Lower courts denied a land swap for the cross. The case was then sent to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 vote on April 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled there was no violation of the separation of church and state and that the cross could stay. However, it also sent the case back to the lower court and it still remains unsolved. Just 11 days after the original ruling, the cross was stolen on the night of May 8, 2010, and has still not been located. Click here for facts about the ruling.

National sources

  • James M. Dunn

    James M. Dunn is vice president and chief investment officer at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs for 19 years and is frequently quoted on church-state issues.

  • Michael F. Noone Jr.

    Michael F. Noone Jr. is Research Ordinary Professor in the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He was a judge advocate for 20 years in the Air Force and is frequently quoted on matters of military and the law.

  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    Americans United for Separation of Church and State describes itself as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving church-state separation to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”

  • Military Religious Freedom Foundation

    The Military Religious Freedom Foundation in Albuquerque, N.M., has been active in the religious freedom debate. Founder and president Michael “Mikey” Weinstein is an attorney, former military attorney and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He co-wrote With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military.

Legal resources

  • Supreme Court of the United States

    The official website of the Supreme Court of the United States posts background information about the court, as well as court decisions and arguments.

    Contact: 202-479-3000.
  • United States courts

    The website of the federal judiciary — which includes the U.S. Court of Appeals, district courts and bankruptcy courts — posts court records, judicial statistics and information on judges. Contact through the website.

  • FindLaw.com

    FindLaw.com post links to case law and texts. Contact through the website.

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