- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Thieves stole the cross-shaped Mojave Desert World War I Memorial during the night of May 9, less than two weeks after the Supreme Court had ruled that the 76-year-old memorial could stay. Because the memorial was on U.S. property, the thieves committed a federal crime; worse, they desecrated a national war memorial that was erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to honor American service members who have died in battle.

A combat-wounded veteran and recipient of our nation’s third-highest medal for bravery - the Silver Star - immediately contacted my nonprofit foundation to offer anonymously a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the criminals. When asked why such a generous reward, the donor simply said, “I wanted to do the right thing.”

The right thing is what the Founding Fathers did when they created the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from establishing a national religion. The Establishment Clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit Congress from establishing a national religion or preferring one religion over another. This clause is at the heart of the Supreme Court case (Salazar v. Buono) concerning this very memorial. The opposition maintains that a cross on federal property - even one erected in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert before it moved into federal control and regardless of motive - violates the separation between church and state.

I disagree, and it is clear that the intention of our Founding Fathers never was to remove all things religious from all things government. In its 5-4 decision to remand the case back to the lower court, it would appear the Supreme Court agrees as well.

Congress attempted to solve the issue by allowing the government to trade the one-acre memorial site for five acres of privately owned property elsewhere within the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve so that the new home of the memorial could stand on private land. A lower court ruled that land swaps may not be used to remedy a challenge to the Establishment Clause.



However, this is about more than protecting a single memorial. The pending court decision on the final status of the once-prominent Mojave Desert war memorial also has the potential of protecting - or demolishing - thousands of similar veterans memorials with religious symbols on federal, state and municipal lands across the country. It seems that every American town has one.

Congress was sensitive to the issue of the cross representing to some a preference of one religion over another, notwithstanding that it has long stood as a memorial to America’s war dead. It also was sensitive to how devastating such mass destruction of our war memorials would be to our culture and national character. That’s why Congress attempted to authorize the land swap back in 2002.

But first things first: Let’s put the thieves in prison and win Salazar v. Buono.

We as a nation fight wars at great cost to life and national treasure, specifically to keep our enemies from destroying our national character, our values and our sovereignty. We as a people also need to fight unrelentingly to keep those people within from causing us the same harm, which includes losing our identity and our history.

We must always honor those who, in their service to our country, paid the ultimate price to protect and preserve our way of life.

To do any less is simply un-American.

Carol A. Taber is founder and president of FamilySecurityMatters.org.

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