A legal representative of two branches of the Veterans of Foreign Wars filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration Monday over ownership of the former site of the Mojave cross.
Attorneys at the Liberty Institute, which represents the VFW Department of California and VFW Post 385 at Veterans Home Barstow, say the Obama Administration refuses to transfer ownership of the 1-acre parcel of land in the Mojave National Preserve to the VFW despite a 2003 act of Congress and an April 2010 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The refusal prevents the VFW from erecting another cross to replace the one that was stolen in May 2010, according to the organization.
"Our client simply wants to be able to have the land that Congress has given to them so we can restore the memorial appropriately," said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Liberty Institute.
After a dispute that lasted more than a decade over whether the cross could remain at the preserve, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April 2010 that it could stay. The Supreme Court remanded the land-transfer dispute to the lower courts in California to make a decision.
A representative with the Department of Justice, which is handling the case for the federal government, was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon. Larry Whalon, acting superintendent for the Mojave National Preserve, said the preserve is moving forward with the land transfer pending the lower courts' decision. He couldn't comment on the lawsuit, however.
The original cross was erected in 1934 as a World War I memorial near Cima Road about 12 miles from Interstate 15. Henry Sandoz, a Yucca Valley man who had been caring for the cross since the 1970s, raised the most current cross in 1996.
The cross was reported missing from the preserve May 11, taken by someone who objected to its existence on public land. Following the theft, the Desert Dispatch was contacted by a person who claimed to be responsible and said he or she would return the cross to the VFW if it was not displayed on public land.
A replacement cross was raised at the same site May 20, but was taken down by the park service. The replacement cross couldn't stay because it wasn't the original, according to preserve officials.
The Liberty Institute did propose an alternate site for the cross, Joshua Springs Calvary Church in Yucca Valley. The cross has not been returned.
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