Groups rue high court ruling on religious displays


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Some Jewish groups have expressed disappointment with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that calls for a policy of accommodation toward religious displays on government-owned land.

In a 5-4 ruling on April 28, the high court determined in Salazar v. Buono that displaying a Christian cross on government property to honor the war dead is acceptable, adding that the Constitution “does not require the eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.”

The case concerns an 8-foot-high Latin cross that has been maintained in the Mojave Desert in some form since 1934 to honor World War I soldiers. The cross is on public property, and Frank Buono, a regular visitor to the Mojave National Preserve, filed suit alleging a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause against the creation of a national religion. Buono sought the cross’ removal.

A district court found that the petitioner had standing to sue and granted Buono’s injunction.

While a government appeal was pending, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act was passed, which allowed the Secretary of the Interior to transfer the land and the cross to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in exchange for an equal amount of land that the VFW owns adjoining the preserve. Buono filed suit again, alleging that the land transfer violated the injunction he had been granted.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower courts; Justice Anthony Kennedy urged the courts to reconsider the case in light of the land transfer. 

The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee and the Union for Reform Judaism joined other organizations in filing an amicus brief to the high court, urging the justices to find the display of the cross unconstitutional.

“We are disappointed by the Court’s action, but this is not a case destined to have much impact on religious freedom,” ADL National Chair Robert Sugarman and National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement.

“One troubling aspect of this decision is that the plurality drew far-reaching theological conclusions when it determined that the cross has some universal meaning beyond Christianity."


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