ACLU Explains “Salazar v. Buono”

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Speaker 1: Case originated as an establishment
clause clam concerning the presence of a Latin cross in the Mojave Preserve on federal land.
The cross or a cross has been there since about 1934. Mr. Buono is a retired National
Park Service employee. He’s a veteran and a very observant Catholic. He regularly visits
the preserve and he objects that the government’s appropriation of his religious symbol and
in fact is so troubled by what the government has done here that he does, he goes out of
his way to avoid driving down the road where this large cross really prominently overhangs
the road as you drive through the preserve because he doesn’t want to see it.
The government is in fact saying Mr. Buono lacks standing. They make a couple of arguments.
One is well, he’s Catholic. It was perfectly understandable that a Catholic can object
to a cross and the government’s sponsorship of that symbol. But even though the government
is putting up their symbol may very well say I don’t want the government appropriating
my symbol for a couple of reasons. One, I think that religion is an issue of voluntary
choice. I don’t want the government sponsoring my religion. It goes back to the history of
the establishment clause. It wasn’t just religions who said we think the government is going
to favor somebody else. They were people who said we don’t want the government’s hand in
our religion and religion is a matter of private choice and in fact, we believe that government
favoritism of religion corrupts that religion. Some people, I think, have tried to post these
cases, the ACLU versus the veterans, and there are a large number of veterans organizations
that have come in and supported the government’s position. On the flip side there are a number
[inaudible 00:01:41] that have come in on our side.
As you can imagine what the Jewish War Veterans and the Muslim Public Affairs Counsel have
said, they’ve said there have always been large numbers of veterans of our faith in
the military and to take a religious symbol that basically means and signifies that Jesus
is the Son of God and that He died to redeem mankind from its sins is not a way that you
can honor the sacrifice of us. It’s not our religious symbol, it’s not what we believe
and to pretend that you can say this honors all of you, this honors all veterans when
it is is preeminent symbol of Christianity is not something that the government should
be doing. It should be honoring all veterans, not some veterans.
This is not a case about veterans versus the ACLU but two very different views about how
veterans should be honored and the kind of message that government should send. This
is actually quite a complicated case because it’s not about whether the cross violates
the establishment clause but on the merits it’s a question of whether the remedy or what
the government is putting forth as a remedy to the violation actually does remedy the
violation and it provided that the Sandozs, which is Henry Sandoz, put the last version
of the cross up, who owns some private land within the boundaries of the preserve would
transfer approximately five acres to the federal government in exchange for the federal government
giving about the one acre of land on which the cross sat to the VFW.
We challenge that as really not a serious and realistic effort to try to remedy the
establishment clause violation and we made a number arguments. We argued that at one
level one of the bases for the court’s finding that there was an establishment clause violation
was that the government had favored the Sandozs in their desire to put this cross on government
property while it excluded all others who wanted to put up other religious symbols and
that you couldn’t fix favoritism by arranging a transfer that in fact favored the very people
who’d been favored in the first instance because this case is not about whether the cross violated
the establishment in the first instance, that’s been resolved. It is now a question of whether
this is a proper remedy.

 

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