The Contentious Sunrise Rock, Mojave National Preserve

Sunrise Rock, Mojave National Preserve

The Mojave National Preserve has made big news this week, as the Supreme Court ruled that the Christian cross sitting atop Sunrise Rock does not violate separation of church and state. It is clearly a very complicated case, but until a six foot tall Darwin Fish can be erected next to the cross, it should come down. Although I was raised a Catholic, today my church is what we call “wilderness” and my deities are the coyotes and ravens that call it home. These are public lands (National Park lands, mind you) that belong to ALL Americans, and lo and behold, we’re not all members of the same church.

What do YOU think?

The plywood that currently hides the cross is blank; the text has been added during post-production. This photograph can be licensed for editorial use. Please contact Michael for information.

BREAKING NEWS! 11 May 2010: The Mojave Memorial Cross atop Sunrise Rock was removed and stolen on 10 May 2010!!

Update: 13 May 2010: Chris Clarke shares his rational and well-considered views on “a couple of sticks” at his Coyote Crossing blog. As Chris writes, ironically: “The cross itself was desecration of a sacred place.”

Update: 14 May 2010: The plot thickens: “Anonymous letter explaining cross theft sent to Desert Dispatch”. You can read that letter HERE.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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23 thoughts on “The Contentious Sunrise Rock, Mojave National Preserve

  1. While I appreciate your humorous sentiment, Jerry, I believe that hacksawing it down would dishonor our war veterans. Regardless of the religion, it was placed there to honor them. The court needs to work this out, and it needs to be worked out properly! We’ll see where it goes from here….

  2. Hi Emily: thanks for commenting! WTF is how I feel! It’s a complicated but simple issue, if that makes any sense. National Parks = public lands = separation of church and state. So, WTF??

    I like it when something so powerful and succinct as “WTF” can enter the cultural lexicon; three simple letters that say SO MUCH and that are understood by so many! 🙂

    • Very true. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says it all. It seems so obvious to me that there could be any number of less divisive and controversial forms to employ in creating such a memorial. Can’t help but think someone was trying to provoke, though maybe not. P.S. – from my graphic design world, a fantastic (though unrelated to this issue) WTF graphic — another cultural reference for sure:

  3. I don’t care what statue or religious symbol it is, it should go. The park is for nature and by nature. The only “monuments” there should be those that were there all along before humans decided to ruin it. What’s next: a christmas tree along side a menorah?

  4. Hi Michael,

    I’m not sure if it was a habit or tradition but here (in Europe) you will see the same thing: crosses on top of hills and mountains. Once a mountain was “conquered” by humans, a cross was erected. Maybe to thank God that they got to the top alive or maybe in honor of God or maybe for another reason ….

    Anyway, you see those crosses allover and in several countries.


  5. I like your WTF? symbol the best. As someone who was raised a Jew and now as an adult believes in God but not religion, I don’t mind the cross. There’s a lot more going on in the world worth making a fuss about.

    Crosses have achieved archetype status and luckily displays like this don’t make me think of the Pope, celibacy and child abuse.

  6. I too was raised Catholic and am now an infrequently practicing United Methodist (a very open and inclusive religion). Find my closest relationship with God in His great outdoors. Hopefully, the powers to be will find a more inclusive symbol to honor those who gave their lives for our freedoms. Separation of church and state is very important for the good of our nation. But let’s remember that our founding fathers wanted separation of CHURCH (particular religions) and state, not separation of GOD (in the generic and all inclusive sense) and state. Two very different things.

  7. THANKS for all the comments, folks.

    Johan: Indeed, I have seen crosses just about everywhere in my travels through Switzerland, France, and Italy!

    Carl: Thanks for the link. Here’s another opinion piece from the LA Times: The Mojave cross ruling: a blow to the 1st Amendment.,0,1289858.story

    Flip: It’s great to see you comment here – thank you! As you and the opinion pieces point out, this is not an inclusive symbol, and it disrespects all those veterans who are not of the Christian faith.

    For sure, an interesting and complex case.

  8. Hey MG,

    Yes the hacksaw statement was just that, to poke a little smile at a bad situation. It helped that I was listening to the Hackensaw Boys at the time I made the post! Being that I am a veteran, the last thing I want to do is poke out the eye of a fellow soldier. Maybe they can find a way to move it to another location outside the Park lands. Still, the conservative leaning Court made a bad decision and are certainly in violation of the separation of Church and State. You can interpret it many ways but there’s no question as to the religious representation.

  9. The Cross was erected before the land became a
    National _Preserve (it is not a National Park).
    The cross was put up in 1934. The land became part of the national Preserve in 1994. Up until the late 40’s the land was available to homestead. Many WWI veterans suffered from gas attacks in the trenches and homesteaded in the Mohave Desert to seek relief for their damaged lungs. Once they died, the land reverted back to the Federal Government. I have hiked the area before and after the upgrade in status. We never paid any attention to the cross.
    I have asked >40 veterans of faiths other than Christian. All (100%) say the cross should stay. I have asked >30 local people. All (100%) say the cross should stay. It is odd that people who have never been to the area and never will, complain about it. I also find it odd that a vocal minority has capacity to make decisions for the majority.
    We, the people of the greatest country on the earth, came together as a compromise; a compromise of many diverse ethnicities, cultures and religions. It is acceptance of others that binds us together. I see many things everyday that I don’t agree with, yet I don’t take a hacksaw to it. I say to myself, that we are lucky to live in a place where that person has that freedom. When we point our fingers and say “They” and “Them” we are pulling ourselves separate from the whole. Everyone has the right to freedom of religion. Those WWI veterans died and scarred their lungs to preserve that and other freedoms.

  10. Hi Perry: I respect and appreciate everything you’ve offered here; thanks for commenting. However, “Everyone has the right to freedom of religion” also implies that everyone has the right to freedom FROM religion. This Mojave National Preserve belongs to all American citizens, Christian and otherwise, and our federal government has an obligation to deny endorsement of any particular religion. What about the dead and lung-scarred WWI veterans who were not Christian? How are they being honored by an unofficial cross atop Sunrise Rock?

  11. First, I consider myself an Agnostic. But, the cross does not bother me foir some reason. But if you go with the it doesn’t belong in a NP argument should we also consider tearing down the LaConte Memorial in YNP? Just seems like much ado but nothing…

  12. Hi Kevin: Thanks for commenting, and good point! I am not a historian or legal expert, but I think the simple answer is this: The LeConte Memorial predates YNP (as well as the cross-bearing Yosemite Chapel, and ALL the other Valley structures), and is a DESIGNATED National Historic Landmark. I assume that YNP designation dictated that all structures stay. The Mojave cross is NOT officially recognized, has no federal designation, and was public-volunteer installed and maintained.

    In some respects, I would agree that this issue is “much ado”. But it made national headlines for a very valid reason: this Supreme Court has dealt a serious blow to the 1st Amendment. For me, THIS is the issue.,0,1289858.story

    • Michael,
      Why do you conveniently forget to mention that the cross predates the Nation Preserve status as Perry has stated? It’s the same argument as with The LeConte Memorial in YNP yet you have no issue with that. When did you first visit the Mojave Preserve? My guess is after the Preserve status as with most who now have an opinion as to how the rest of us should be so happy to see all the rich history of the Preserve torn down. Long before all of you earth cookies read about another Federal Government run wild lands you needed to run to the Mojave was here. And those of us who didn’t need Clinton to proclaim in a Preserve were here enjoying it, and that includes the cross. You should except it the way YOU found it. WTF? is right WTF is wrong with all of you that is!

      • Hi Mike: the issue I have is with the Christian cross mounted on public lands (separation of church and state). We don’t all subscribe to the same deity. The LeConte Memorial bears no cross.

        If you truly believe that one should accept things the way they were found, why do you support the desecration of beautiful native granite with a religious symbol? What would you say if it was a statue of Buddha instead of the cross? Or Shiva? The unobtrusive veterans memorial plaque should remain. We can still celebrate the courage, contributions, and sacrifices of American veterans even when no cross is present.

  13. Hey, the debate is over. The cross stays. Our veterans who sacrificed all are honored, as they should be. Case closed. Nobody should tear down what others have done for the benefit of all. Why must we tear down a symbol of what our predecessors sacrificed? The cross is a symbol. It is not an issue of church vs. state. Are you better than Christ’s example? Let the sun rise over that beautiful spot, and let us not forget that we owe a debt to those who came before us.

    • Thanks for your comment. Debates are never over (people and society change, religions die and are born). The court ruled, that parcel of land is private. It is still possible to pay a symbolic debt and celebrate the courage, contributions, and sacrifices of American veterans even when the symbol of Christianity is absent.

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