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Humanists Weigh in on Supreme Court Case Salazar v. Buono

For Immediate Release

(Washington, D.C., October 7, 2009) Salazar v. Buono, a religious freedom case before the U.S. Supreme Court, has the potential of sending shock waves not felt since the public school prayer cases in the early 1960’s, said the American Humanist Association today. The case will determine whether a Christian cross may remain atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in California.

Bob Ritter, Legal Coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, a division of the American Humanist Association, attended the oral arguments heard this morning and offered his analysis of the proceedings. "It looks like it will be a very close vote, with Justice Kennedy issuing the deciding vote," said Ritter. "It was surprising that few of the questions asked by the justices revolved around the question of standing--whether or not Respondent Frank Buono has the ability to sue the federal government for violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Rather, most questions were about the nature of the land transfer."

After a district court ordered the removal of the cross on federal property in the California desert, Congress authorized the exchange of the land the cross sits on to the Veterans of Foreign Wars for other land privately held in the Preserve. They also designated the cross as a war memorial. As the 9th circuit observed, Congress left “a little donut hole of land with a cross in the midst of a vast federal preserve.” On July 31, the American Humanist Association filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Respondent Frank Buono, and argued that the cross in the middle of the Preserve still gives the appearance of government endorsement of Christianity and thus should be removed.

The case is important because it's the first major opportunity for the Roberts court to interpret the meaning of the Establishment Clause. "A ruling either way is likely to have profound implications," said Ritter. "A ruling in Buono's favor will likely lead to the removal of some religious symbols on public property throughout America, while a ruling against Buono may close the court house doors to others who seek to challenge Establishment Clause violations." Other cases that could be affected include Newdow v. Roberts, a case the American Humanist Association has been involved with, which is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The case challenges the insertion of "so help me God" by the administrator of the presidential oath and government-sponsored prayers in the invocation and benediction.

The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across the United States.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.


For more information contact:

Karen Frantz
Communications and Policy Manager
American Humanist Association
cell: 703-725-4112
work: 202-238-9088

Bob Ritter
Legal Coordinator
Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association
Office: 202-238-9088