Salazar v. Buono

On August 3, 2009 the Center for Inquiry filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Salazar v. Buono. CFI urged the Court to overturn a congressional legislative scheme to maintain an eight-foot Christian cross in California's Mojave National Preserve, insisting that the government should not display sectarian symbols on public land.

The cross display in question was originally erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1934, and has since been replaced several times by private citizens. In 2003, Congress passed legislation declaring the cross a "national memorial" and ordering the transfer of the cross and the surrounding property to private hands. CFI declared that this legislative scheme was a transparent effort to keep the Christian symbol in place.

CFI's amicus brief argued that neither the purpose nor the effect of the government's land transfer was to distance the government from the cross display. CFI urged the Court "to hold the land transfer invalid, and prevent use of such formalistic devices from multiplying across the country as a court-sanctioned way to feign compliance with the Establishment Clause."

CFI also urged the Supreme Court to leave intact the existing legal doctrine on "standing" - i.e., the right to sue. The government argued that plaintiffs should be turned away at the courthouse steps because their views are demeaned as merely psychological or only policy disagreements, as opposed to objections arbitrarily deemed "spiritual." CFI argued that the government's proposed new "spiritual injury" requirement for standing would risk creating an improper hierarchy of belief systems, denying access to the courts by secular humanists and others whose views are not based on religious tenets. CFI argued further that it would force the Court to wade into the quagmire of deciding what constitutes a religious belief, further muddying the standing inquiry.

Salazar v. Buono will be argued before the Supreme Court on October 7, 2009.

CFI's amicus brief was authored by Daniel S. Pariser, Sonia K. Pfaffenroth and Ethan P. Greene from the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, with input from Ronald A. Lindsay, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, and Derek C. Araujo, Vice President and General Counsel. The Center for Inquiry expresses deep gratitude to the Arnold & Porter team for their expert assistance and for generously donating their services.