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Cross replaced in memorial mystery

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2010

A week after a cross was stolen from a Mojave Desert war memorial that played a key role in a recent Supreme Court decision, a different cross was discovered early Thursday morning at the same site.

Kelly Shackelford, president and chief executive officer of the Liberty Institute, which represents the caretakers of the cross, told The Washington Times that it is unclear whether the cross now at the Mojave National Preserve site in California is the original or a replica, but evidence suggests it is a replica. The cross is newly painted, he said, and is missing damage from previous vandalism attempts.

The National Park Service has said it will leave the cross where it stands if it is the original but tear it down if it is a replica. Late Thursday, Mojave National Preserve spokeswoman Linda Slater told reporters in California that the new cross is illegal and must come down.

"We're scratching our heads over this," said Joe Davis, national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Mr. Davis said the caretakers of the memorial, Henry and Wanda Sandoz, had made an exact copy of the cross that was stolen, but that he had no leads on who replaced the cross. He said VFW supports the memorial but was not involved in the return of the cross.

"We're in anticipation of reinstalling the memorial as it was intended, whether that's the original or a replica," Mr. Davis said. "We support the memorial as it was originally intended in 1934 by the World War I veterans."

Mr. Shackelford agreed, saying in a statement Thursday that "every day the memorial does not go back up is a day too long and a disgrace. It disrespects the memory of the WWI veterans who put it up, every fallen soldier, and every veteran in this country."

The Mojave cross has been embroiled in a decade of legal disputes over whether it constituted an establishment of religion. After courts ruled that the cross was an unconstitutional religious symbol, Congress transferred the plot of the land on which the cross stands to private ownership.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to strike down Congress' actions and ordered a trial court to reconsider the issues in light of the land transfer.

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