For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
August 05, 2009
Center for Inquiry Files Amicus Brief in Salazar v. Buono; Urges the Supreme Court to Uphold Previous Rulings by the 9th Circuit
Amherst, NY (Aug 5, 2009)—The Center for Inquiry (CFI) filed an amicus brief with United States Supreme Court in the case of Salazar v. Buono . The high court is scheduled to hear the case on Oct 7. At stake is whether a Christian cross may remain atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in California.
The cross was first erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1934 and has since been replaced several times by private citizens. An attempt to erect a Buddhist shrine nearby was not allowed by the government. In an apparent effort to circumvent the Establishment Clause, Congress transferred the cross display and the surrounding property to private hands in 2004. Since then, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has twice invalidated the land transfer, ruling that the cross must be removed.
"The cross is a sectarian symbol of religious faith. The government has no business displaying it on public land," said Derek C. Araujo, General Counsel and legal director at the Center for Inquiry. "Public land is just that, public. The Christian display does not represent all Americans. The American public includes a multitude of non-Christian religions, as well as secularists, atheists and agnostics who don't identify with any religion. Congress's actions amount to unconstitutional government favoritism toward one religion."
Araujo is particularly concerned with the government's attempt to change the existing legal test for "standing," or the right to sue. "The Court must reject the government's attempt to impose a new test on standing," he added. "The government's newly-fashioned requirements would turn plaintiffs away at the courthouse steps if they lack a so-called 'spiritual injury,' potentially denying access to court by the non-religious and others whose desires to protect the Constitution are not based on religious tenets. This case will be an important test of church-state separation."
The CFI brief focuses on two main issues: refuting the government's claim that standing to challenge a government-endorsed religious display requires the plaintiff to show adherence to a contrary religious belief; and arguing that in the particular circumstances of this case, the government's transfer of the land to a private party did not cure the constitutional violation.
CFI's brief asserts: "Neither the purpose nor the effect of the land transfer in this case was to distance the government from the cross display. . . . The government transferred the land to those who erected the cross in the first place precisely because it wanted the cross to remain standing. The Court should 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's amicus brief was drafted 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.
Download a PDF version of the Salazar v. Buono brief here.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York committed to fostering a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. The Center’s Web site is www.centerforinquiry.net .