Where is Art Carney when you need him?
The straight man for the classic Honeymooners TV show could deliver a line sorely needed at today's Supreme Court hearing on the fate of the Mojave Desert war memorial cross: “Simmer down, Ralphie boy!”
In this case, Ralphie is Frank Buono, a man who has gone to absurd lengths to find offense. In fact, it’s reminiscent of the false knock on the Puritans that they above all else feared that someone, somewhere was having a good time. In Frankie's case, he apparently fears that someone, somewhere might take comfort in a cross erected to honor America’s fallen heroes.
At issue in Salazar v. Buono is the five-foot-tall (estimates vary) cross that is the latest in a series of crosses erected on Sunrise Rock since 1934 in California’s Mojave National Preserve. The original was built by World War I veterans with the Veterans of Foreign Wars who had gone to the desert for their health and decided to honor their fallen comrades and the rest of America’s war dead by erecting a wooden cross. The current one, made of pipe, was built in 1998 by a local resident, Henry Sandoz. The cross is in a remote region seen by few. But one of those is Buono, a former Park Service employee and ACLU member who told the ACLU that although he moved to Oregon, he comes down and sees the cross “two to four times a year.” That was enough for the ACLU to file a lawsuit in 2001 demanding that the National Park Service tear down the cross.
A quick comparison. In Berlin, Ronald Reagan thrilled millions by saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The ACLU, on the other hand, squeals loudly, “Courts, tear down this cross!” Whose country would you rather live in?
In 2004, Congress passed laws designating the site as a national war memorial and swapping the land on which the cross stands for some privately owned acreage. But Mr. Buono, whose complaint was that a cross on taxpayer-owned federal land violated his First Amendment right against establishment of religion, filed an injunction halting the transfer. He claims that he’s an injured party although the government gave him relief on his original request: “Stop saying ‘yes’ to my demands, or I’ll sue!” Naturally, the wacky Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco found merit in his argument, bringing us to the Oct. 7 hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
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